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2015 Golf Participation in the U.S. – A Slight Dip Tempered by Strong Positive Indicators

Twenty years after Tiger Woods stepped before a microphone in Milwaukee on Aug. 28, 1996, and with the words “Hello, World,” touched off the most meaningful golf industry growth since Arnold Palmer and President Eisenhower jump-started it 40 years earlier, there are reasons to be confident about the stability of the game. While the latest NGF participation numbers show a slight dip in 2015 to 24.1 million (over the age of 6 who played at least once) from 24.7 million the two previous years, numbers remained strong in several crucial areas: among committed golfers, beginning golfers and in the number of people interested in taking up the game.

NGF MEMBERS: Click here to download the latest Summary of Golf Participation.

While the total drop in golfers from 2014 to 2015 was within the national study’s statistical margin of error, the results do suggest that a slow leak in overall participation persists. However, NGF analysis continues to show that attrition is confined mainly to those who never really got into the game.

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About 80 percent of all golfers, or 20 million of the 24.1 million, make up a committed base who accounted for 94 percent of all rounds played and equipment spending in 2015. Play among this group drove an overall increase in rounds played of 1.8% versus 2014, as reported by the National Rounds Played Coalition (comprised of NGF, Golf Datatech, PGA of America and NGCOA).

The twenty-somethings like Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Lexi Thompson and teenager Lydia Ko appear to be resonating. Beginners numbered 2.2 million in 2015, which compares favorably to the all-time high of 2.4 million in 2000, at the peak of Woods’ success when he won three major championships. And the biggest group of beginners in 2015 were Millennials.

Interest in playing golf is at an all-time high with an estimated 37 million non-golfers saying they are interested in taking up the game. And roughly 20 percent may already be making their first moves. In addition to the 24 million people who played golf on a golf course last year, another 7 million took part in the game at a driving range, a TopGolf facility or on an indoor golf simulator.

Golf’s overall reach is impressive. An estimated 81 million*, including 62 million non-golfers, watched golf on TV in 2015 while 27 million read about the game in traditional or electronic media.  One out of three Americans – about 95 million – played golf on a golf course or alternate venue, watched on TV or read about it in 2015. The interest is there. The challenge is to activate more of the people who are interested in playing, and retain a higher percentage of those who do give golf a try.Getting more beginners to enter the game through structured introduction programs like Get Golf Ready is key to improving retention.

While participation growth remains difficult to achieve, with the recession in the rear view mirror and an exciting new wave of young players in front of us, there are good reasons to be optimistic about future growth if emphasis continues to be placed on converting more beginners into committed golfers.

*81 million is consistent with Nielsen viewership statistics for Americans watching PGA TOUR broadcasts for a minimum of 15 minutes.

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Hutch Goad
My concern is not with the playing adults as much as it is with our junior golfers entering the game. I see so many children with their faces in electronic devices and over weight. For the game of golf to grow forward an extreme effort should be placed on golf courses stewarding new players.
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