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Volume 23 No. 28
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Study shows opportunity for golf

Golf Participation

Played on a golf course: 23.8 million + Played exclusively off-course: 8.3 million = Overall participation 32.1 million

A new industry study shows that the number of people interested in playing golf is at an all-time high, but the newfound interest hasn’t yet been converted into more regular participants in the game.


The study from the National Golf Foundation shows that more consumers are being drawn to off-course attractions such as Topgolf, the entertainment-themed ranges that mix chip shots with music and drinks, or other driving ranges and simulators. Getting them to a regular golf course is another story. 

Photo: getty images

Take the fact that, according to the study, 23.8 million people played golf on a course last year, about the same as in 2016. But another 8.3 million participated solely at off-course locations last year such as Topgolf. That resulted in an overall participation number of 32.1 million.  

The study points to the rise in “latent demand,” which the NGF measures as the number of individuals who didn’t play golf during 2017 but indicated a strong interest in playing. That figure increased to 14.9 million in 2017, up from 12.8 million in 2016, and more than double from the 7.2 million in 2012. 

While those numbers hold promise in growing the game, they also pose a challenge. 

“It’s converting the interest into committed golfers,” said Joe Beditz, CEO of the National Golf Foundation. “Golf is a niche sport, but I’m confident in the awareness and interest in the game. We should be taking better advantage.”

The goal is to build on the 19.5 million “committed golfers” identified by the study, or those who play at least one round a year and who indicate that golf is one way they like to spend their recreational time. That number compares to 20.9 million in 2012. 

To longtime industry executives such as Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, the new report quantifies not just the state of the game, but the actions needed to grow the sport. 

Where they shop

Off-course golf specialty stores
Stores opened
Stores closed

Where they play

Total golf facilities
New courses opened*
Courses closed*
Re-opened after renovations* 96

Note: 2017 data
*Reported in 18-hole equivalents
Source: National Golf Foundation

“The core of the game is solid,” Mona said. “We don’t have issues with interest in the game. We don’t have a problem with trials. We’ve got all these people who want to try the game. The biggest issue is retention. The retention isn’t commensurate with growth in other areas. There needs to be a point of emphasis to make sure the game is welcoming and fun. We have to be more adaptive.”

The golf industry’s efforts to get more people on the course include youth programs such as Drive, Pitch & Putt and The PGA Tour’s The First Tee, and other programs such as the PGA of America’s Play Golf America program geared to both juniors and adults.

The new NGF report, issued on May 15, for the first time consolidates industry data into one comprehensive report, which in future years will be released annually in late March leading into the Masters tournament.