Golf Datatech LLC’s National Golf Performance Report showed that golf rounds soared 13.9 percent and equipment sales increased 10.1 percent in 2020 over 2019.

The year-over-year growth in rounds and retail sales is primarily a result of golf being positioned as a near-ideal socially distanced activity during the pandemic.

The 13.9 percent increase in rounds is the largest total year increase since Golf Datatech began collecting and projecting rounds played in 1998, topping the previously largest increase recorded of 5.7 percent in 2012. The 10.1 percent improvement in retail sales bettered the previous all-time high percentage gain of 10.0 percent in 2005.

Fueled by a combination of avid players, newcomers and infrequent golfers, 2020 demand for all things golf surged during the second half of the year. Also, 2020 spending reached near-record levels, as overall golf equipment sales eclipsed $2.81 billion, the third-highest annual total recorded, trailing behind 2008 ($2.91 billion) and 2007 ($2.87 billion).

“While the global pandemic wreaked havoc on many segments of our economy, the golf industry experienced a significant boost in rounds played and equipment sales,” said John Krzynowek, Partner, Golf Datatech. “On the equipment side, sales increased by low-single-digits in 2018 and 2019, but the double-digit gains in 2020 can only be attributed to the pandemic and golf being a respite for so many.”

While rounds played and equipment sales experienced sharp increases in 2020, apparel sales went the other direction and dropped by 14.2 percent. Golf apparel is predominantly sold through on-course golf shops, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, many pro shops were not fully operational for several months. Also, a lack of international travel and lockdowns due to the pandemic during the critical spring season in warm weather markets had a detrimental impact on many resorts, which sell a significant amount of logoed golf apparel. Added together, these factors weighed heavily on the Green Grass Golf Apparel business.

While on-course sales declined, apparel sales at off-course specialty outlets, particularly those with a strong online presence, saw significant growth in 2020. Moreover, the last two months of the year saw total apparel sales up 11 percent, a hopeful sign heading into 2021.

Added Krzynowek, “Combining equipment and apparel sales thru the on and off-course channels, total consumer demand in dollars for golf product was 3.2 percent higher than in 2019. Given the state of the golf economy in late spring, anything in the positive territory had to be considered a big win, and December data continues to impress and suggests the business may still have room to run in early 2021.”

2020 Rounds Played Analysis
In 1998, Golf Datatech undertook the task of creating the golf industry’s first monthly projections of rounds played by state and region around the country. The company’s objective was to provide accurate estimates of the health of golf by tracking rounds, which are the engine that drives almost every other aspect of the business. The company also receives support from the NGF (delivering course data) and WeatherTrends (weather data) to provide the industry with granular detail at the market level.

According to data compiled directly from golf course owners and operators, rounds of golf at public, private and resort courses nationwide were up 13.9 percent in 2020 compared with 2019. This increase in year-over-year rounds played is the largest total year increase reported by Golf Datatech.

December rounds played increased 37 percent higher than 2019, led by a strong showing in warm weather markets, which are the primary driver of golf during the winter months, along with incremental increases in markets that would typically have minimal activity due to cold weather.

Added Krzynowek, “Golf Datatech started collecting and projecting monthly rounds played data in January 1998 and has been the industry’s exclusive monthly metric since that time. We’ve never seen an annual increase remotely close to this, as the previous record increase occurred in 2012, a year when we had nearly perfect weather across much of the United States and rounds played grew by 5.7 percent. While there is no doubt that the pandemic provided a positive jolt of energy to the golf business in 2020, a warmer and drier climate across broad swaths of the US also generated more potential tee times, which the golf community passionately consumed…and continued to ask for more.”

Krzynowek concluded, “Golf has fared better than many other U.S. industries during the pandemic, as on-course and off-course facilities effectively adapted their operations to accommodate customers while adhering to CDC, local and National Health departments guidelines. Overall, the golf industry can be proud of how it has handled the adversity brought on by the pandemic thus far but must always be aware that until a vaccine is distributed and broad-based immunity is present, we must all continue to be on guard.”

Photo courtesy UVA Today