The traditional game of golf has been undergoing an evolution that began long before the pandemic, even as the past two years have been a historic stretch marked by increased golf participation, rounds and engagement, more favorable perceptions of the game, and a generally healthier outlook.
Yes, golf’s evolution has been under way for some years now, and the latest milestones are significant.
For the first time in history, the overall participant base – the combination of on- and off-course golfers – will top 40 million Americans in 2022. And in another first, the number of people who play non-traditional, off-course forms of the game in the U.S. will surpass the green-grass total. We will be releasing the official, final numbers early next year.
This isn’t new math or “moving the goalposts.” The latest findings are part of ongoing research to better understand and frame the evolution of golf – a topic that is the central theme of this year’s NGF Golf Business Symposium.
Among the high-level data being shared with attendees this week in Charlotte are the impending 2022 increases in both traditional on-course participation AND newer off-course styles of golf like Topgolf and other golf entertainment, simulator golf, and even virtual-reality play. The notable continued growth in the off-course space – in part driven by a wealth of new and engaging offerings — is providing new entry points to on-course play and recent research has proven they add to, not take away from traditional, on-course golf.
Regardless of whether you care about non-golfers swatting balls at a place like Topgolf between rounds of drinks (or struggle with categorizing such a pursuit as a form of golf), it’s positive broad momentum that better positions the game for the future. It’s also notable that some of the growth we’re seeing, both on-course and off, is coming from under-represented segments the industry has been actively seeking to engage.
Golf is evolving. In a great many ways. And we continue to track the game in all its forms.