According to NGF’s (National Golf Foundation) 2019 Participation Report, participation in traditional green-grass golf courses increased slightly in 2018 to mark its first measured increase in 14 years.

Participation in green-grass golf has held steady in recent years to reach a new support level of approximately 24 million. In 2018, however, the number people ages 6-and-up who played at least one round of golf on a golf course increased incrementally to 24.2 million, the first gain since 2004.

Off-course participation increased by almost 10 percent in 2018, with an estimated 23 million people hitting golf balls with clubs at golf-entertainment venues like Topgolf and Drive Shack, at stand-alone ranges, and using indoor simulators. Despite the increasing popularity of golf entertainment facilities, the majority of off-course participation (12 million) still occurs at golf ranges, whether its on-course golfers honing their skills or beginners learning the game.

Combining those who played on a golf course with the 9.3 million others who played exclusively off-course, golf’s overall participant base climbed to 33.5 million, a gain of 1.4 million, or 4 percent, year over year and driven by off-course gains.

For the traditional game, an estimated 19.5 million Americans were seen as dedicated golfers, representing 81 percent of those who play and 95 percent of all rounds-played and spending.

An estimated 2.6 million beginners played on a golf course for the first time in 2018, a figure at or near historical highs. There were also 14.7 million non-golfers who say they’re “very” interested in playing golf. Almost half of this latent demand pool is comprised of former golfers with some experience, but who haven’t played on a course within the past year. The rest are people who have never played before on a course.

The growth in green-grass participation came despite rounds-played declining 4.8 percent year-over-year to an estimated 434 million rounds in 2018. This drop was attributable in part to weather conditions. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, 2018 was the third-wettest year nationally dating back to 1895.

Other findings in the report:

  • The average golfer is a 46-year-old male with a household income of more than $100,000 who plays approximately 18 rounds per year.
  • Women represent almost one-quarter of participants, 5.7 million in total. This includes 900,000 girls between the ages of 6 and 17. Females also represent a disproportionally higher percentage of beginners (31 percent), juniors (36 percent) and off-course participants (44 percent) than they do in the overall golf population (23 percent).  More than one-third of today’s juniors are girls compared to 15 percent in 2000.
  • Almost one-quarter of juniors are now non-Caucasian while just 6 percent were minority participants 20 years ago. Non-Caucasians continue to represent between 4 million and 5 million golfers overall, with an estimated 4.3 million on-course participants in 2018, the same as the prior year. At 18 percent of all golfers, this is less than the one-third non-Caucasian makeup of the overall U.S. population.
  • The 65-and-over age group is seeing the fastest on-course growth. An estimated 4.2 million “Baby Boomers” played golf in 2018, up from 3.6 million in 2017. Fifteen percent of beginners in 2018 were over the age of 50, the largest percentage in 10 years.
  • Young adult participants remained stable at 6.1 million. Those in the 18-to-34 age group represent 25 percent of traditional golfers and, even more significantly, 44 percent of off-course only participants.

Image courtesy Topgolf