News & Opinion

‘Committed golfers’ stabilize industry

The 2018 Golf Industry Report was released today by the National Golf Foundation with some good news for an industry that is valued at $84 billion and makes a significant contribution to the U.S. economy through nearly 2 million jobs.

Many observers think that golf – specifically non-professional golf – is in trouble. However, the GIR indicates that the industry is not as imperiled as many have been led to believe.

The number of “committed golfers,” defined as individuals age 6 and older who played at least one round of golf in the past year and indicate that golf is one of several ways in which they like to spend recreational time, stayed relatively steady at 19.5 million.

Because those committed golfers were responsible for 95 percent of all rounds played and money spent on golf, the game seems to be in better shape than many believe, with little or no decline.

Another highlight in the report: 8.3 million played golf exclusively at an off-course facility such as Topgolf, on indoor simulators and at driving ranges.

Also, 14.9 million non-golfers said they were very interested in playing golf in the future.

The 2.6 million newcomers (those who played golf for the first time) represented more diverse backgrounds. Female newcomers outpaced current female golfers, 35 percent to 24 percent. Non-Caucasians represented 26 percent of the beginners compared with 18 percent of the current crop of non-Caucasian golfers. New golfers younger than 35 numbered 70 percent versus 37 percent of that age group among current golfers.

The 10-page report indicates that the future of golf is on a solid trajectory.

Although the report points to many positive signs in an industry bereft of much good news in recent years, concerns persist.

Among the 14,794 total golf facilities in the U.S., only 15.5 represented new course openings in 2017, while 205.5 courses closed and 96 reopened after renovations.

Rounds played numbered 456 million in 2017, a 2.7-percent year-over-year decline.

The drop in rounds played correlated with the decline of golf specialty stores: 5.6 percent, to 678 stores. Sixty-one stores closed last year, compared with 21 openings.

Yet, one off-course retail chain reported significant growth. Speaking shortly after the Masters last month, Dick Sullivan, the president and chief executive of PGA Tour Superstore, said his company posted 30-percent growth in sales from two years ago.

The company also opened at least four new stores last year and plans to open 5-7 in 2018, but the new stores are only a part of the growth.

“After the store closures of 2016, we did see some lift in sales in certain markets, which was to be expected,” said Matt Corey, PGA Tour Superstore’s chief marketing officer.“However, we had stores and markets where a competitor did not close, and our results were very strong in those situations as well. We believe that our business model and our approach to inspiring golfers to play their best – our core purpose – is driving our strong positive business regardless of competition and market conditions.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email:; Twitter: @AlexMiceli

COMING WEDNESDAYMorning Read will take a closer look into the operations of PGA Tour Superstore and why the national retailer has been able to buck the trend with sustainable growth in an industry that essentially has been flat year to year.