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Is Golf A Dying Sport? 2023 Update and Outlook

Golf is one of the sports that play a constant game between losing players and getting them back, and this may lead some to believe that golf may be a dying sport, but this is not the case at all.

Golf is not a dying sport. The increase in rounds played in 2021 from 2020 during the pandemic and increased numbers of people going to golf facilities like Topgolf is a clear sign that interest and participation in the game are far from waning, especially with ladies and juniors.

Before 2020, it certainly seemed as though the game was indeed on a downward spiral, with large numbers of people stopping playing the sport and golf retailers also seeing evidence of this. Still, golf is resilient and is well on its way back and stronger. Let’s find out why this is.

A golf ball on the green. Is Golf a Dying Sport?

What Causes Golfers To Quit The Game?

The simple answer is golf. It’s frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive, and most of all, it’s frustrating. Some will even go so far as to say golf is boring. While many golfers cite time and cost as reasons to quit the game, the inability to improve and be consistent drives most to quit.

Golf takes practice, and unlike other sports like cycling or running, practicing does not guarantee that you’ll get better.

You only have to look at how many golf balls are lost each year. Okay, I’ll give you the heads up – 300 million golf balls are lost every year in the US alone. Golf is one of the only sports where practice can make you get worse!

With golf, not doing the right things in practice will lead to higher scores, and learning what the right things are can be very time-consuming as typing in ‘golf tips’ on Google yields billions of results.

Not only that, but if you go to three different golf coaches, you would probably get three different analyses of your swing and what’s wrong with it.

In addition, the constant barrage of marketing on clubs, balls, and shoes shift the golfer’s focus to spending money on equipment which, of course, will have a slight positive effect on a player’s game despite the marketing messages.

The sometimes pedantic rules plus the eliteness and lack of diverseness in some clubs also never helped.

The US alone can lose up to 4 million players in an average year, which has significant consequences for golf courses and retailers alike.

What Inspires People To Play Golf?

One of the biggest motivators for people to start playing golf is watching and being inspired by professional golfers. One, in particular, generated a massive wave of inspiration with his play – and that one was Tiger Woods.

At the height of his career in the early ’90s, Tiger inspired more people, young, old, men, and women, to take up the game, and this rise in golf was only matched about 20 years on by another unique event, not a person, but a virus, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tiger’s incredible skill and attitude to winning inspired generations of golfers to become the next Tiger. Many of the players on the PGA Tour today credit their game and passion to the grand champion. And if you want to know what Irons Tiger uses, check out this post, What Irons Does Tiger Woods Use?

Another group of golfers has played, quit, and rejoined. This can happen when they retire and have more time, recover from injury, or find a way to achieve better consistency in their swing and improve their ball striking and accuracy levels.

Golf Balls in a Row

The State Of Golf Before Covid

After the Tiger revolution, golf saw a massive decline in numbers between 2003 and 2018. An estimated 6.8 million players left the game, and some 1,200 golf courses closed during that time. There’s no denying golf was a dying sport during this era.

Any hopes of a revival of the game in March 2020 were shattered as the impact of COVID-19 took hold. Many courses closed for most of the Spring.

The National Golf Foundation showed year-on-year rounds declined by 8.5% in March 2020 against March 2019 and a massive 42% in April 2020 against April 2019.

How COVID Saved Golf

As the initial COVID restrictions were lifted and the temperatures warmed, the golf course became a haven for people needing to get out after lockdown.

Golf has an almost natural ‘social distancing’ dynamic, and the stats from late 2020 showed staggering increases, and golf’s surge in popularity was even better than forecast.

The rounds played in November 2020 were up a phenomenal 56% from November 2019. Total rounds played for 2020, despite the lockdown, were up almost 14% from 2019.

This trend in popularity continues as 2021 saw between 20 and 25 million more rounds of golf played than in 2020, and three million new golfers played the game during 2020, with the most significant increase seen in 17 years.

Some 6.2 million golfers, both new and rejoining, re-entered the game in 2020, and the women’s game saw 450,000 new players join – an increase of 8%.

Do you want to know how many golf players there are worldwide? Check out this article for a ton of interesting stats, How Many Golf Players In The World?

Further evidence that golf is expanding is shown by the number of courses either in planning or under development. To learn more, head over to this post, How Many Golf Courses In The World?

Additionally, an indication that golf is not dying is seen by the increasing number of people, especially the Millenials, engaging in the interactive golf experience and going to venues like Topgolf, driving ranges, and using other simulators to enjoy the game.

Golfers Playing in a Competition

Golf Retailers Riding The Wave

These figures correlated to those from the retailers as Dick’s, Callaway, and Acushnet (the makers of Titleist) all saw significant boosts in growth with a 10.1% increase over 2019 figures.

July 2021 smashed records, and sales in June, July, and August of 2021 were up more than 50% from the same period in 2019. This upward trend is expected to continue as more people opt to live a more healthy lifestyle in the wake of COVID.

Golf Viewership Is On The Rise

As the numbers increase in both rounds played and equipment sales, the number of people who watched golf in 2020 and 2021 also rose.

  • An increase of 69% in the number of viewers for the US Masters Final round in April 2020.
  • A 29% increase in viewers for the PGA Championship.
  • A 76% increase in viewers of the Final Round of the 2021 US Open.

In addition to TV viewership, the demand for online golf lessons has skyrocketed. Some teaching professionals reported increases as much as 400%. This ties in with the overall picture that golf is not dying but flourishing.

Final Thoughts

Contrary to (misconstrued) popular belief, golf is not a dying sport; in fact, it is doing just the opposite, and its popularity is surging. Like a flower that only blooms under adverse conditions, the rose of golf is doing just that.

The evidence would indicate that this game is destined to grow even more over the coming years as more people start to enjoy the benefits of being outdoors and exercising. Those occasional great shots make you feel like the heroes that inspired you to play in the first place.

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