2018 golf participation up, reversing 14-year trend

More people than ever are playing golf, but they’re not all playing at traditional golf courses. 

The annual report from the National Golf Foundation (NGF), “Golf Participation in the U.S.,” found 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. It doesn’t sound like much, but the NGF pointed out that it’s the first time the number has shown an increase in 14 years. 

The biggest gains were in off-course participation, at venues such as Topgolf and stand-alone ranges and indoor simulators. The number of players at such facilities increased by almost 10 percent, to 23 million, over the previous year. 

An estimated 9.3 million of those played exclusively at off-course facilities. 

The NGF report found encouraging signs in the fact that the number of people first playing golf for the first time hit 2.6 million, which is at or near historical highs for beginners. Another 14.7 million non-golfers — many of them former golfers who had not played in more than a year — said they were very interested in playing. 

The baby boomer generation accounted for virtually all of the growth in participation. An estimated 4.2 million of them played golf in 2018, an increase of 3.6 million from the previous year. Golfers over 50 also accounted for 15 percent of beginners, a sign that more boomers are becoming interested in golf.  

Participation of young adults, a key demographic for the future growth of the industry – remained stable at 6.1 million. 

While on-course participation rose, founds for the year declined 4.8 percent from 2017, to 434 million rounds. The NGF attributed the drop to unfavorable weather conditions – 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 as recent years: providing more playing opportunities for those who express an interest in the game – potentially through non-traditional formats and offerings – and successfully converting more beginners into committed participants.

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