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Golf’s Charitable Impact $3.9B – Golf 20/20

On a snowy afternoon in January of 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy delivered one of the most acclaimed Presidential inaugural addresses in the history of the United States.

He uttered a phrase that day on the podium outside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. for which he will forever be known, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

But there was another small part of Kennedy's oratory that went unnoticed. “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor,” stated Kennedy “it cannot save the few who are rich.”

Kennedy actually was referring to the developed world doing its part to assist underprivileged populations in underdeveloped parts of the globe, but his message really was much broader than that. We must help each other, he was saying, and it doesn't really matter if that involves buying someone a cup of coffee or contributing to research aimed at combatting illness and disease. It just means doing our part, be we multinationals, non-profits, religious organizations or sports. Help those in need of help.

And golf, as we shall see, has been helping people do their part in quite an impressive way.


The game of golf was used to raise $3.9 billion for charity in 2011, according to research conducted by the National Golf Foundation for the World Golf Foundation’s GOLF 20/20 division.  The money was raised principally through local tournaments, the professional tours and corporate and individual donations.

Read that again. $3.9 billion – in ONE YEAR!

That’s a huge chunk of change. How huge?

 With $3.9 billion, you could pay every cent of every Major League Baseball player's 2012 salary.

With $3.9 billion, you could make the movie “Titanic” 12 times and still have plenty of greenbacks left over to build the vessel itself.

With $3.9 billion you also could fund the National Endowment for the Arts for the next quarter of a century.

You could make all eight Harry Potter movies plus all 23 James Bond movies (including “Skyfall”)  and still have enough left over to make “Caddyshack” 58 times (and “Tin Cup” once).

Ah, Caddyshack. It remains a much-loved movie, but one aspect is especially worth noting here. Caddyshack is the story of young Danny Noonan's pursuit of a caddie scholarship. Caddyshack may be legendary and a source of eternal laughter, but its central plot is about charity.


So where did all the money come from?

Mostly from you and me.

The $3.9 billion raised for charity in 2011 came mostly from regular golfers playing in regular events, with corporate and other sponsors more than pitching in. We did it—all 12 million of us—by playing in roughly 143,000 golf tournaments, at 11,800 different facilities.

The NGF gathered its information through two principal efforts: by surveying facilities and by surveying charitable organizations.

NGF surveyed 872 facilities, 468 online and 404 via telephone, in June and July of this year. It found that 75% of the facilities surveyed had hosted one or more fundraising events in the past year.

The NGF did likewise with charities.  They researched 545 charitable organizations, about half by telephone, the remainder via published reports.

As with the giving itself, the facilities involved cover the spectrum from tiny rural facilities to networks that instill charitable giving as part of their business. As an example, the Muscular Dystrophy Association will raise almost $5 million this year through its own efforts, but it also will benefit from the more than 100 golf events it coordinates at facilities operated by the Texas-based ClubCorp. The network of events includes donations and online auctions, with MDA receiving one-third of all proceeds. “Golf gives our team the ability to engage key donors through a game they love,” says Shannon Stryne, the MDA's Vice-President of Business Development. “We involve our local MDA goodwill ambassadors in each event, and it allows us to network with a key demographic that helps us in other ways as well.”

And this, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. The NGF research demonstrated the spectrum of fundraising: The Make-A-Wish Foundation raised $3 million in 2011, the City of Hope cancer center network raised $400,000, St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City raised $17,000. Reins of Life in Indiana—it gives therapeutic riding lessons to the disabled—raised $4,000. It all counts.

And the beneficiaries appreciate it. “All of our fundraising events are important,” says Andrew Feast, Director of Special Events for the Wall Street-based American Lung Association, “because they help raise money for critical programs and life-saving research.”

Adds Charlie Dickinson, National Golf Coordinator for the Emmitsburg, Maryland-based National Fallen Firefighters Association, which raised $300,000 through golf tournaments in 2011 and had 23 events scheduled in 14 states this year, “Raising money through golf tournaments pays for survivor support and is a great way both to get out into communities and to do things on a national level.”

A typical NFFA event is a window into how local golf fundraising works. Take the shotgun start tournament held at Lake Valley GC in Longmont, CO, this past July. A single golfer paid $100, the simplest donation, and that covered greens fee, cart, lunch and an après-golf gathering (and discount on a t-shirt). At the top end, a “Platinum Sponsor” received three foursomes, a two-page advertisement in the events “Tribute Book,” a welcome banner at registration and lunch, sponsor signs on two holes, and a t-shirt for each of the dozen players. In between, there were five other levels of sponsorship.

Why are efforts so robust at the grassroots of golf? The NGF findings demonstrate the obvious: Charity is human nature. Perhaps a family member or friend has suffered; perhaps a doctor or even an entire medical department of a hospital will lead the way; perhaps a business group might realize that the generosity of charity ultimately also can improve business. The NGF research also discovered that one good turn often can lead to several more, as golf outing participants often network and create other opportunities for giving.

But the NGF research also repeatedly surfaced the same comment from charities:  “It’s fun.”

“It’s a fun, fun day,” is how Pam Carline, secretary of the board of Solid Ground, a transitional homeless shelter for families, senior citizens, and disabled individuals in Roseville, MI, described a recent golf outing at the nearby Selfridge GC. “Everyone who is there knows we are there to support the residents.”

Simply put, golfers like to play golf and enjoy each other's company—especially when it involves a good cause.

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Featured Report
2012 Rounds Up Significantly: Who’s Benefitting?

The big story of 2012 in the golf business is the year over year increase in rounds played.  In fact, if fourth quarter rounds are flat with the same period in 2011, we would end the year with the largest single-year jump since the turn of the century; a national gain of more than 30 million rounds.

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