The most influential factor in the golf economy in 2012 was the 5.7% increase in rounds played, through the end of the year. The resulting increase of 26 million rounds takes the national total to about 490 million. Since rounds declined approximately 11% or 55 million during the past 10 years, 2012 alone recovers half of that dip.
Nearly every state experienced a gain versus 2011. The geographic engine for the improvement has been a huge section of the northern half of the country where average year-over-year growth was 9.5%, compared to 3.8% for the rest of the country. This area from the Dakotas to Vermont (technically, the North Central, North East Central and Mid-Atlantic regions) drove up the national numbers… mainly because 44% of all U.S. golf courses and 47% of America’s public golf courses are located there.
Source: Golf Datatech National Rounds Played Report and NGF golf facility database.
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Improved weather was the biggest influence on rounds played. PGA PerformanceTrak has reported a healthy 6.5% increase in playable days nationwide in 2012. Weather in the northern region of the country that drove up the national rounds played numbers was particularly favorable compared to 2011. Playable days in these states increased 13.6%, compared to 5.5% in the rest of the country.
It is important to note that Mother Nature probably doesn’t deserve all the credit for the increase in rounds played. National measurements of consumer confidence and spending have also been slowly and consistently edging upward from dips we saw in the Great Recession. Feelings of personal financial well-being are undoubtedly tied to an individual’s positivity toward all types of discretionary and recreational spending, including golf.
As you would expect, golf course operators have benefitted most directly from the jump in rounds played. PerformanceTrak reported that median golf fee revenues were up 6.6% at member facilities through December 2012. However, given that “all golf is local,” individual facility performance is driven largely by the nature of local competition, weather, and economic/socio-demographic factors.
Competition certainly remains fierce in many markets, and the battle for market share is illuminated by the following statistic: the national average for rounds-per-18 holes – approximately 32,000 – is more than 20% lower than it was prior to the start of the building boom in the late 1980s. Despite positive trends, golf remains a “buyer’s market.”