I see Facebook posts about it, I hear about it, and the media loves to write about it. The game of golf apparently is dying, died a few years ago or is facing certain death. I learned in my statistics class many years ago that numbers don’t lie, but people create lies with them.
Some Facts are Incontrovertible
Golf is nearly a 70-billion-dollar industry that gives back close to 4 billion to charity. That is more than all of the other sports combined, and yes that includes the NFL, NHL, and MLB. Some other facts:
24 million Americans play 455 million rounds annually at 15,200 facilities.
76 percent of all golf facilities are public.
90% of all golfers play on public golf courses.
Approximately 143,000 charity events are held annually with 12 million participants.
Numbers Can Lie
A number doesn’t mean much without context. If I tell you I shot 65, you might be impressed thinking that I played a par 72 golf course, but if that 65 was here at Augusta Ranch that would mean I was 4 over. You need to know the par before you determine how well I played. What is the par for the golf economy? Are national rounds of golf and number of golfers down? Yes, since 2003 those numbers have decreased every year. Is golf on the rebound? Yes, rounds of golf in 2015 were up over 8 million compared to 2014. Through the first four months of 2016, rounds are up another 4%. In addition, 37 million have said they are interested in playing, an all-time high. We can talk about where we have been or we can talk about where we are going. Please don’t proclaim the demise of the business I am in if you won’t define par.
Who is Playing Golf?
The effect of Baby Boomers on the game of golf is well documented. With the youngest Baby Boomer now 51, this golfing generation is only mid-way through its golfing years. Many say the Millennials are not interested or don’t have the time to play golf. However, 6.3 million golfers are between the ages of 18-34 and playing approximately 93 million rounds or 21% of the golf played. The children of millennials are playing golf also. Youth golf (ages 6 to 17) grew 25% in the last 5 years. This is the largest jump in total volume compared to other youth sports – including soccer, basketball, football and baseball. The LGPA-USGA Girls Golf program is up
over 900% over the last 5 years. More than 50,000 girls are introduced to the game each year through this program.
Is Golf Being Watched on TV?
Yes, 105 million people tuned into watch golf in 2015. CBS’s ratings were up 20% and NBC’s were up 5%. Weekly minutes viewed were up 13% over 2014. PGA Tour Digital averages 8.3 million unique users a month with over 266 million visits YTD thru June 2016, an increase of 22% over 2015. Golf Channel Millennial viewership in 2015 is up more than 50% for daily viewing and 20% during PGA Tour coverage.
Can Anyone Play Golf?
Adaptive golf is growing. Of the 57 million Americans with some form of disability, over 10% are now playing golf with 35% more interested in learning. The First Tee reached more than 4.7 million young people in 2015 going directly to 8,000 elementary schools and partnering with 700 after school youth programs. 84% of the teens participating in those programs credited the First Tee with making them better students in school.
Top Golf is making golf more fun and an indoor family activity. With over 13 million guest annually and 65% of play coming from Millennials, Top Golf is exposing all families and all age groups to golf. Will some of those 13 million guests become golfers eventually? No one knows the answer to that, but I do know that the more people swinging a club the more chances we have that they will want to do it outside rather than inside.
But….Golf Courses Use a Lot of Water
How much water does a golf course use? Compared to what is my first question. Does a golf course in Arizona use over a 100 million gallons a year? Yes, but in Arizona, a state that has over 330 golf courses, that is less than 3% of the total water usage in the state. In addition, half of that water is effluent water which is not available for human consumption. By comparison, a semi-conductor production plant uses over 6 million gallons of potable water a day. The agriculture industry in Arizona uses 70% of the state’s water supply. Golf courses throughout the United States continue to lead the industry in water stewardship by reducing water usage over 20% over the past 8 years. Most golf courses determine watering times based on the evapotranspiration rate of the microenvironment of that golf course. The only water given to the grass is the water that evaporated over the last 24 hours. Yes, the perception is that golf courses abuse water, but in reality water is not only their most valuable asset, but their most expensive need.
Golf’s Biggest Impact
Golf is good for the economy. The economic impact is undeniable. In Arizona, golf impacts the economy to the tune of 3.4 billion a year. However, the impact on a family is unquestionably
golf’s most resonating affect. Whether it is the fitness aspect (a walking round of golf equals 10,000 steps and 2,000 calories) or the quality time together (golf can be played by all ages and gets you off of the digital grid for 3-5 hours), a life filled with golf is a healthy one mentally and physically. Some may say that golf is too hard, however there now is an answer for that too. FootGolf is exploding around the US with over 500 courses now available. With this combination of golf and soccer, thousands of people are enjoying golf courses in a new way. Some are even playing golf and FootGolf at the same time. Today’s families want to spend time together. Long gone, or dead you might say, are the Saturdays dads spent away from the families hanging with their buddies at the men’s only golf club. Golf is now about Family, Fitness and Fun. Yes, Golf is very much alive and kicking.
Don Rea is the Owner/Operator at Augusta Ranch Golf Club in Mesa, AZ. Connect with Don on Linkedin by clicking here.