More golfers, but poor weather killed rounds in 2018

The state of health of the golf industry may be finally trending up after several years of decline. While the total number of rounds played decreased slightly in 2018 for a third straight year, historically bad weather was to blame, according to the National Golf Foundation’s annual Golf Industry Report.

Pellucid, an independent industry analyst, also previously found that the weather in 2018 was largely to blame for the drop in rounds. Jim Koppenhaver, who runs the organization, said it was the worst year for weather in the last eight years, but that utilization improved from 52.5 to 54 percent. Utilization measures the number of rounds compared to the number of available rounds. The average greens fee also improved by .8 percent to $52. The median is $44.

The National Golf Foundation reported that the number of players improved, and off-course golf participation continued to increase. Off-course participation includes golf entertainment centers like Topgolf, standalone driving ranges, and computerized golf simulators. That grew by almost 10 percent in 2018, to 23 million participants — 9.3 million of whom play off-course exclusively. 

Of the traditional on-course golfing experience, the annual survey found that 24.2 million Americans participated in 2018, up a tick from 2017, but down from the peak of 30 million in 2003. The 434 million rounds played was down 4.8 percent from the prior year, and off from the 10-year median, which is around 458 million.

Golf course closures also continued at a strong pace. There were 198.5 course closings, compared to only 12.5 18-hole equivalent course openings in 2018. That leaves 16,693 18-hole equivalent courses at 14,613 facilities in the U.S., and 38,864 courses worldwide.

The report pointed out that the current numbers — 16,000 courses and 24 million golfers — are about where the industry stood 20 years ago before the boom in popularity and course development. 

Koppenhaver said the industry will reach equilibrium in nine years if rounds remain flat.

“Rounds used to be tied with population growth, but that stopped in 2000,” Koppenhaver said at the PGA Merchandise Show in January. “Population growth is now being driven by diversity, which plays away from our base.”

He said the participation rate has dropped from a high of 12 percent to 7 percent. The National Golf Foundation report said participation is 10 percent, and is higher than basketball, tennis, baseball or skiing.

The National Golf Foundation is a nonprofit trade associated founded in 1936. It’s mission is to promote golf and provide members with accurate information from its research team.

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