Research: Golf participation growth in GB and Ireland

New figures of research reveal an increase in golf participation in Great Britain and Ireland last year.

New figures reveal an increase in golf participation. 2.3 million more adults played on-course in Great Britain and Ireland last year, and the sport is now being encouraged to grasp the opportunity to retain new and returning players.

Research led by The R&A, together with England Golf, Golf Ireland, Scottish Golf and Wales Golf, demonstrates how the sport thrived in 2020 despite the significant challenges of Covid-19.

The two new participation reports, produced by specialist research agency Sports Marketing Surveys, show that a significant number of players enjoyed golf on full-length courses as well as alternative forms of the sport, including the use of driving ranges, Par 3 golf and pitch and putt. Other encouraging findings show an increase in the number of female golfers and a reduction in the average age of participants.

Richard Payne: “We are really excited”

Reflecting on the research, SMS director Richard Payne noted, “For golf participation to have grown in the way it has in the context of the external pressures it has faced is nothing short of amazing. We suspected this might be the case when our figures showed that more rounds were played in 2020 than in 2019 despite course closures, but rounds played is only one part of the story. We now know that the growth wasn’t only down to existing golfers playing more, but also significantly boosted by new players coming into the sport. More people on driving ranges, par 3s and full-length courses is good for the whole game, from course operators to manufacturers to retailers, events and broadcasters. We are really excited to help the golf industry take advantage of this, and we’ve already been having lots of great conversations with clients keen to understand how research can help them build on the momentum.”

Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said, “We have seen a real surge in the number of golfers in Great Britain and Ireland playing the sport and this is reflected by the high demand for tee times and clubs reporting a strong interest in membership last year.”

“Golf has shown that it can provide significant health benefits, and this has been important for many golfers during these very challenging times. It is vital that golf seizes the opportunity to maintain this heightened interest by offering new and returning golfers compelling reasons to stay within the sport and enjoy it with friends and family,” he said.

Key highlights from the 2020 Great Britain Golf Participation Report:

  • Total adult golfers on a full-length course (9 or 18 hole) increased by 2.1 million players to 5.2 million – the highest figure recorded this century;
  • Of these golfers, 36% identified as returning or new golfers – with 16% of players starting or trying golf for the first time because of the pandemic;
  • The average age of golfers fell by five years to 41, with the majority of new golfers aged under 55;
  • 25% of female golfers were new to the sport – and tried it for the first time because of the pandemic;
  • Driving range use increased from 2.3 million to 4.3 million players;
  • The number of golfers who only used Par 3 courses more than doubled, and those who only played on pitch and putt courses more than tripled.

Key highlights from the 2020 Ireland Golf Participation Report:

  • Total adult golfers on a full-length course increased by 219,000 to 540,000
  • 18% returned to golf or started or tried golf for the first time because of the pandemic
  • A third of adult golfers who tried golf for the first time were under 25 years old

Following the easing of lockdown restrictions, The R&A identified the need to further understand the new demand and how different types of golfers were engaging with the sport.

Post Covid Opportunity Research

The Post Covid Opportunity Research was a supplementary project carried out by SMS. It assesses the experiences of golfers during the pandemic, their motivations for playing and their long-term plans for the future. Among new golfers, 98% of those interviewed identified they are enjoying playing golf and 95% see themselves playing golf for many years to come.

The impact of Covid-19 restrictions on mental and physical health and loneliness has been considerable, with the research showing how golf has helped in these areas.

Key findings include:

  • Among avid/regular golfers, 31% had experienced some negative impact on their feelings of loneliness/isolation as a result of the pandemic. Of these, 79% believe playing golf had a positive impact.
  • Among lapsed/returning golfers, 44% had experienced some negative impact on their mental health as a result of the pandemic. Of these, 92% felt that playing golf had a positive impact.
  • Among occasional/infrequent golfers, 34% had experienced some negative impact on their physical health as a result of the pandemic. Of these, 70% agreed that playing golf had a positive impact.

The research also outlined recommendations that clubs can take to retain new players. These include making sure golfers feel welcome and valued; cultivating a friendly culture and relaxed atmosphere; promoting participation options based on ability and experience; offering excellent customer service; providing an efficient booking system; and prioritising the quality and maintenance of the course.

Anderton added, “The mental and physical health benefits of golf have helped boost participation in 2020 and that is hugely encouraging given the sport offers a wonderful form of exercise out in the fresh air for all ages and abilities.”

“With more female players also coming into the sport, it presents an opportunity for golf clubs to harness interest from this key demographic and to engage in our #FOREveryone campaign.”

“The campaign encourages clubs to consider how they can attract more women and girls into the sport and challenge unhelpful stereotypes to demonstrate that it is an enjoyable pastime and career for people of all ages and backgrounds.”

(Text: Sports Marketing Surveys)

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