BOSTON, Mass – More people than ever are playing golf, but they’re not all playing at traditional courses, according to the National Golf Foundation’s (NGF) annual report on golf participation.
Topgolf, stand-alone ranges and indoor simulators saw 23 million players during 2018, a 10% increase from the previous year. An estimated 9.3 million of those played exclusively at off-course facilities.
But traditional courses also saw an increase, albeit a modest one. NGF reported that an estimated 24.2 million people played at least one round on a traditional green-grass course last year, compared to 23.8 million in 2017.
While not a substantial increase, it was the first time the number had increased in 14 years. Baby boomers accounted for most of that growth. An estimated 4.2 million of them played golf in 2018, up from 3.6 million the previous year. Golfers older than 50 accounted for 15% of beginners, a sign that more boomers are becoming interested in golf.
The NGF report showed encouraging results regarding the number of people playing golf for the first time. That number was 2.6 million, which is at or near historical highs. Another 14.7 million nongolfers, many of whom were identified as former golfers who had not played in more than a year, said they were very interested in playing.
Participation by young adults, a key demographic for future growth of the industry, remained stable at 6.1 million.
While on-course participation rose, rounds for the year declined 4.8% from 2017, to 434 million rounds.
The NGF attributed the drop to unfavorable weather conditions, since 2018 was the third wettest year in more than a century, according to U.S. weather statistics. The NGF report concluded that the challenge for golf remains the same: to provide more playing opportunities for those who express an interest in the game – potentially through non-traditional formats – and convert beginners to committed participants
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