According to an analysis by the National Golf Foundation (NGF), golf participation has picked up in recent weeks in several key golf markets as courses reopen with the surge in play most pronounced in courses that faced restrictions.

With golf open for play in all 50 states throughout much of the month of May, the National Golf Foundation said in a release that it has shifted focus to studying the effect COVID-19 and related government restrictions have had on participation and rounds played – both during the height of pandemic-related shutdowns and since.

In a recent survey of golf course operators, 88 percent indicate their rounds-played in May were the same or higher than normal for this time of year. Similarly, 96 percent of core golfers, among the game’s most dedicated participants, said they played more or about the same number of rounds as usual last month. In the latest NGF consumer survey, 86 percent of core golfers said they expect to play in the next two weeks and that continued engagement should also drive consumable spending (balls, gloves, shoes, apparel, etc.) as well as spending on durable products such as golf clubs.

Golf has been well-positioned throughout the coronavirus era as a healthy and safe outdoor activity, and because of this unique advantage, there’s been a lot of curiosity of late about the effects on rounds and participation overall. Over the past few weeks, NGF has received and shared a number of anecdotal reports suggesting a mini-surge in engagement — full tee sheets, lapsed golfers making their return, more families and new faces out on the golf course.

Using findings provided by Sagacity Golf, NGF took a deeper, data-driven look at engagement in several key golf markets, comparing 2020 weekly rounds volume to the same period over the previous three years. It’s noteworthy that the increase in golf participation is most pronounced in markets that had restrictions on golf operations, a clear sign of pent-up demand.

“It’s no surprise, but nonetheless jarring, to see the impact of government shutdown orders on rounds played,” said NGF President and CEO Joe Beditz. “In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, the stop and re-start of golf is ever so clear, as is a meaningful surge in rounds since reopening a month ago – up 26 percent versus the previous three-year average. Surges are evident in other markets as well, and notice that even in non-shutdown markets like Orlando and Phoenix there were still significant ‘before and after’ effects.”

NGF’s weekly consumer sentiment study shows that the financial outlook of core golfers (those who played eight or more rounds in the past 12 months) is generally positive and now significantly better than it was nearer the beginning of this pandemic when uncertainty was peaking. Four out of five believe they’ll be in similar – some even better – financial position compared to pre-pandemic when fewer than 60 percent felt that same way.

“Golfers seem to be letting their spending belts out a notch too,” said Beditz. “This week we saw a significant jump in the proportion who say their spending has returned to a normal level (45 percent, up from 35 percent). And, as another measure of golfer confidence, the percent who’ve made an unexpected ‘big-ticket purchase’ in the past 30 days has risen to 38 percent, up from 28 percent just a few weeks ago.”

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Photo courtesy East Bay Times, San Francisco, CA