CLUB Golf is in poor health. Everyone tells us this is the case, so it has to be true. To the right? All evidence suggests that more people have been playing the game since the pandemic began. A slew of surveys and research suggest that the number of players playing the game has been recorded.
Many golf clubs now have waiting lists. Some have even introduced admission fees. It would be all too easy to rest on our laurels and believe that everything is rosy in the golf garden.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of extremely encouraging growth in the number of games, but we cannot afford to be complacent. We estimate growth of 15-20% last year compared to 2019. The number of those who poured back into the game after the end of the initial lockdown was unprecedented and we clearly can’t expect it to continue like this.
Golfshake score tracker Data shows that golfers played about 20% more per month on average compared to 2019, but we’ve seen the numbers return to higher levels in 2021.
Earlier this year The R&A released the results of a survey that claimed golf had seen an increase in the participation of 2.3 million adult golfers on the course in 2020 in the UK and Ireland, and concluded that the sport must work hard to be grab the chance to keep new and returning players.
Research conducted by The R&A in collaboration with England Golf, Golf Ireland, Scottish Golf and Wales Golf clearly shows that golf has thrived in 2020 despite the enormous challenges posed by Covid-19.
And two participation reports prepared by Sports Marketing Surveys show that significant numbers of players have enjoyed golf on 18-hole courses, as well as alternative sports such as driving ranges, par-3 golf, and pitch and putt.
There was also an increase in the number of women playing the game and, ultimately, a decrease in the average age of the participants.
Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A said: “We have seen a real increase in the number of golfers in the UK and Ireland playing the sport and this is reflected in the high demand for tee times and clubs that have a strong Membership in the last year express interest in this sport. Golf has shown that it can offer significant health benefits and this has been important for many golfers during these very challenging times. It is critical that golf seize the opportunity to maintain this increased interest by providing compelling reasons for new and returning golfers to stay in the sport and enjoy it with friends and family. “
According to R&A, the total number of golfers in the UK rose 2.1 million last year to 5.2 million. It’s the highest number recorded this century and represents a truly staggering increase.
The main demographic characteristics
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for those who practice the sport in this country is that 36% of that number were either returning or new golfers, with a staggering 16% of players starting or trying golf for the first time due to the pandemic. After years of trying to find a way to get younger players interested in the game, we saw the average age of golfers drop by five years to 41, with the majority of new golfers under 55 years of age.
And the good news didn’t end there – 25% of female golfers were new to the sport and were trying it for the first time due to the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the number of driving ranges has also increased from 2.3 million to 4.3 million players.
In Ireland, the number of regular golfers more than doubled from 219,000 to 540,000, with 18% returning or playing golf for the first time due to the pandemic, while 33% of adult golfers who tried golf in Ireland for the first time were below average 25 Year old.
Hillier Hopkins produces an annual survey in collaboration with UK golf clubs. The results for 2020 were impressive.
One of the key findings was that the number of golf clubs with waiting lists had more than doubled from 22% to 45%, which had a positive impact on membership and income. Of course, when a golf club is forced to put on a waiting list, it means it is at full capacity, something most could only dream of before the pandemic. Half of the members had sales of over £ 1m in 2020 – a remarkable number considering the courses had to close for such a large part of the year.
However, the age profile of the average club golfer remains a cause for concern, as Hillier Hopkins reported that in 2020 only 20% of the players who played at the clubs she surveyed were under 40 years of age.
However, it was very encouraging to learn that 69% of members were willing to modernize their rules and regulations, even though 92% continue to enforce a strict dress code for golfers.
The R&A reports that 98% of respondents enjoy the game and 95% see that they will play golf for many years to come.
Needless to say, the lockdown has affected the nation’s psychological wellbeing, and this has been confirmed by the R&A.
Among avid / regular golfers, 31% admitted that the pandemic had a negative impact on their feelings of loneliness / isolation. Of these, 79% said that playing golf had a positive impact. Among the dropped / returning golfers, 44% said they had some negative effects on their mental health as a result of the pandemic. Of these, 92% believed that playing golf had a positive impact. Among the casual / infrequent golfers, 34% said they had some negative effects on their physical health due to the pandemic. Of these, 70% found that playing golf had a positive impact.
A personal story
Of course everyone has their own reasons for this wonderful sport. We recently took the golf break from. recorded Robin Baldwin, a 55-year-old member of the golfshake community.
He told us: “In August 2020 a friend (an avid and very good golfer) suggested going to a driving range. Really enjoyed it, went a second time thinking I would try golf more seriously for 25 years at golf club and only played once or twice a year before that.
“I bought a used set of clubs on eBay for £ 200, booked four 30 minute lessons at a local club, and then it was the second ban. It wasn’t until March of this year that I actually made it to a golf course. In February, I went into partial retirement, which frees up time.
“I’ve since bought new clubs, joined the local club and played a few times a week with mixed results. My goal was initially to get into ‘bogey golf’ but I’m determined to get through to mid-teens I’m afraid I left too late to get a single-digit handicap.
“Before 2020, in my opinion, the limiting factor was time. I also had other sports and pastimes when time allowed. It is easier to find an hour for a game of tennis than five hours for a round of golf! “
Robin now has the time to focus on his golf and finds it just as fascinating, addicting and frustrating as the rest of us.
“What’s holding me back? It started with an occasional punch that goes exactly where you want it. Since I’ve improved a little, enough good shots have been stringed together to get a good score on a hole or nine holes or a full lap. Even on the worst lap, when you’re about to toss your bag in a lake, there will be a couple of shots that will make you think, ‘Hmm, maybe I can do this after all. .. ‘
“The other side of that is frustration: hitting a fantastic stroke, thinking that par or better is on the cards, then the next stroke is hopeless. How can you vary so much? My last two rounds were 108 gross ( nothing went right!) and 83 (nothing went wrong!). Who knows what Saturday will bring? ”
Robin offers a new perspective on a new golfer’s experience and points out some potential obstacles.
“The snobbery that surrounded golf years ago seems to be subsiding – but it’s still there to some extent. The staff I have met are brilliant, some golfers less. But it’s a great way to move around without even realizing it, especially when you’re carrying your bag. And the fresh air and nature make golf courses great places.
And that, in a nutshell, sums up the experiences of so many of us. There is no doubt that golf is in a good place. May it go on like this for a long time.