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Golf Keeps Going Strong

More than 40% (41.2%) of respondents to the McMahon Group’s Outlook 2024 Pulse Survey saw an increase in golf rounds in 2023 compared to 2022, while 37.9% saw rounds stay at the same level and 21.0% saw a decrease.

For the industry overall in 2023, the National Golf Founda- tion (NGF) anticipated rounds finishing 2% to 4% ahead of 2022. That took the pace for overall increased rounds in the post-pandemic surge to roughly 20% since 2019. Considering that in the previous 15 to 20 years, the industry lost close to 1,500 golf facilities, this amounts to strong growth in golf participation that doesn’t show any indication of slowing. A large part of this growth has been from weekday play, which is attributed to the working-from-home phenomenon created by the pandemic.

Another interesting statistic comes from non-green grass participation, better known as the Topgolf phenomenon. The NGF put the total number of golfers at the end of 2022 at 25.6 million. And when you include non-green grass golfers, some predict as many as 44 million Americans are now playing some kind of golf, which is a 7% increase since 2022. While many questioned whether these non-green grass golfers would also transition to playing golf on actual green grass, there is ample evidence that they have.

Women also represent 60% of net golfer growth since 2019, with junior golf and people of color also making up large parts of the overall growth since 2020.

This all makes for a very healthy future, at least in the short term, for golf. The trend of more non-green grass golfers eventually becoming players at golf facilities and country clubs is expected to continue to proliferate in 2024 and beyond.

PGA Professionals and the Business of Golf

In 2017, the PGA of America announced three career tracks for PGA Professionals to follow: Executive Management, Golf Operations, and Teaching and Coaching. As education has been upgraded in each of these areas, it has paid dividends, as more clubs are recognizing the value that golf expertise can have on their overall operation.

Since 2010, the number of PGA Professionals moving into an executive space, made up mostly of those transitioning to general manager or COO roles at their clubs or facilities, is up six- to seven-fold. Specialization in one of these three path options will become even more prominent in the year ahead.

Retention is one of the biggest ways PGA professionals can make a difference at their clubs in 2024. More clubs will be building teaching facilities and dedicating directors of instruction to ensure that golfers (especially those new to the game) keep playing and enjoying it. Constantly engaging members/customers to make sure they’re enjoying the game and finding ways to improve golfers’ ability will be critical moving forward. Look for clubs to incentivize their PGA professionals based on member/customer retention.

Responses to questions in the Outlook 2024 Pulse Survey indicated there is plenty of opportunity for more clubs to add facilities to support these efforts. Fewer than a quarter of respondents to the survey (24.9%) said their clubs currently have a dedicated golf performance center for year-round teaching and training, and 36.6% said their clubs have golf/game simulators. Interestingly, of the clubs with simulators, over half (51.2%) said their amenities includes a social gathering space with lounge seating and drink service, attesting to the broader appeal they can have beyond golf training and recreation.

One final point to be made when looking at the year ahead concerns the turmoil in the professional game, which has definitely led to concerns from those who love it. The battles between the PGA Tour, DP World and LIV tour have created divisions not seen in golf in some time, and raised concerns about the negative effect they could have on the growth it is enjoying. Experts still anticipate that when all is said is done, there will be one major professional tour worldwide, but time will tell. On the positive side, junior golf is at an all-time high in participation and college golf and the amateur game have also never been healthier.