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NGF Golf Participation Update - in Perspective

According to NGF’s annual Golf Participation report, golf remains one of the most popular participation sports in this country, with the number of golfers* holding at ± 25 million in 2013. That represents a national golf participation rate of 8.5% for the year. Though 2013 survey results showed an estimated drop of 600,000 golfers (a 2.4% reduction of the 25.3 million recorded in 2012), this change is within the range of sampling error. The number of Core golfers (age 6+, eight or more rounds a year) remained steady, while the number of Occasional golfers (age 6+, one to seven rounds a year) decreased by about 4%.

Though the individual annual declines in the number of golfers over the last 5 to 6 years, including 2013, are within sampling error, the overall trend clearly demonstrates that there has been a considerable decline in participation since about 2006, compounded by the recession that began in 2008. Understandably, most of this attrition has been among Occasional golfers – those not so closely tethered to the game. Though the number of Core golfers has also dropped over that time, we suspect that many of these golfers that no longer play eight or more rounds per year remain in the game, but have slipped into the Occasional category.

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For each of the last few years, about 4 million people reported no golf activity on a golf course for the current survey year, after having played at least one round the prior year. These people represent so-called “lapsed” golfers. Additionally, we know that the game consistently attracts about ±3.5 million people each year (3.6 million in 2013), split about evenly between first-timers and those with some golf experience. In recent years, the number of people entering the game has not kept pace with those who have stopped playing, either temporarily or permanently, resulting in the overall downward trend noted above. However, at least for the last couple of years, the proportion of first-time beginners to returning former golfers has increased. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a positive trend that sees more fresh faces entering the game.

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Of course, in addition to number of golfers, rounds activity at golf courses is the other bellwether measure of participation. After a terrific golf weather year in 2012, we saw a commensurately poor weather year in 2013. This was likely the primary contributing factor to a 4.8% drop in rounds played.

This year’s participation report includes, for the first time, a measure of “latent demand” for golf. NGF began to formally track interest in playing among non-golfers in 2010. In 2013, the number of non-golfers who indicated they are interested in playing now was nearly 29 million, an increase of 1.2 million over the prior year. It is from this very significant prospect pool that the game attracts the 3 million+ entrants noted above each year.

The 2014 Edition of Golf Participation in the U.S. will be available at the end of July. The report includes the participation rates and number of golfers by gender, age, income and education. Segments profiled include Core golfers, Occasionals, Juniors, and Beginners. The report also contains historical participation data for each segment as well as a rounds played profile that details average and total rounds by demographic segment. A regional summary that shows the number of golfers and rounds by U.S. census region is also included. Golf Participation in the U.S. is free for NGF members. Non-members can purchase the report for $350.

*For research purposes, a golf participant is defined as a person age 6 or above who plays at least one round of golf on a golf course in a given year.

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