Getty Images

The UAE has, for decades now, been the driving force behind the growth of golf in the region, but with elevated International Series events arriving on the Asian Tour in places such as Oman and Qatar, Bahrain joining the DP World Tour schedule, the Ladies European Tour and Golf Saudi innovating the game on the Aramco Team Series, and the explosion in popularity of the sport in Saudi Arabia, it is safe to say golf has never been more popular in the Middle East.

Even with all the ‘growing the game’ in the region, the numbers involved may be surprising.

Source: R&A. Includes par-3 courses

The R&A recently released the latest figures for global golf participation, with the key stat that 10 million more adult golfers are playing the sport worldwide since 2016.

According to new research undertaken by the governing body, there are now 39.6 million on-course golfers (nine and 18 hole) in R&A affiliated markets.

The research figures indicate that the growth trend began before the onset of Covid-19 and continued during the pandemic — up 34 per cent from 29.6 million on-course golfers in 2016. The sport has since continued to increase in popularity post-pandemic, up 15 per cent from 34.5 million on-course players in 2020.

Closer to home, the growth in the Middle East has been exponential, growing from 13,000 golfers in 2012 to 42,000 in 2022.

Source: R&A

Since 2012, nine and 18-hole golf participation numbers have risen by 62 per cent compared to 2020, including 16,000 registered — the Middle East leads the world on this metric.

Overall, golf in the region is still in the early stages of golf participation development, especially in the massive market of Saudi Arabia, where Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation are making massive inroads into inspiring golfers of all ages and levels through its Mass Participation Mission, introducing, educating and entertaining both the young and old through an array of programmes.

The Middle East — and UAE in particular — continues to host multiple elite events and is growing in popularity as a golf tourism destination.

Source: R&A

Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said, “Golf’s popularity has surged in recent years, which is reflected in a notable increase in the number of people playing the sport in both traditional on-course and alternative formats.

“It is significant that 10 million more golfers are playing on the course since 2016, but it is also important that millions of others are engaged in golf through many other alternative formats, such as driving ranges, which are so vital to the growth of the sport.

“It also underlines why effective and impactful participation programmes are important for encouraging more people into the sport and retaining them in greater numbers. We are working closely with our affiliated national federations and stakeholders within golf to sustain this momentum. We thank them for their efforts as we aim to ensure that golf is thriving for years to come.”

The R&A is continuing its commitment to invest £200 million over ten years in developing golf, including sustained work to encourage participation by promoting the health benefits of the sport through a global campaign.

1. REGISTERED GOLFERS: These are the number of golfers who are affiliated to a federation (they may be members of golf clubs or affiliated to the federation in another way: eg, through a direct subscription).

2. UNREGISTERED 9 AND 18 HOLE GOLFERS: Golfers who have played on a full length nine or 18 hole golf course at least once in the last year, but are not registered with their national association.