By Mike Stachura
For the first time in 14 years, the number of golfers in the U.S. as counted by the National Golf Foundation showed a measurable increase. While it’s technically within the margin of error for the NGF report’s methodology, the number of people in the U.S. age 6 and up who played at least one round of golf in 2018 increased to 24.2 million, up from 23.8 million in 2017.
The annual NGF Golf Participation Report also showed positive numbers for golf interest beyond the traditional on-course experience. The count of those who hit balls at a traditional driving range or entertainment venues like Topgolf or Drive Shack, or only played golf on an indoor simulator also grew to 23 million, a jump of 10 per cent. Counting on-course and off-course participation, the total golfer pool in the U.S. is 33.5 million people, a four-per cent increase from 2017. This off-course participation group was first highlighted in 2016.
The NGF report also showed the number of beginning golfers at 2.6 million, “a figure near historical highs,” according to the NGF.
One specific area of growth for the game is those at retirement age. While the number of golfers in the 18-34 age group held steady at 6.1 million, golfers who were 65 and older jumped from 3.6 million in 2017 to 4.2 million in 2018. Still, “those in the 18-to-34 age group represent 25 per cent of traditional golfers, and, even more significantly, 44 per cent of off-course only participants.”
The number of junior golfers dipped slightly to 2.5 million, but there is increasing interest among girls. In 2000, the number of girls playing golf accounted for 15 per cent of all juniors; now it’s more than one-third.
According to the NGF, the increase in the number of golfers came in a year that saw an almost five per cent decrease in rounds played in 2018. The report suggests the rounds played drop is directly tied to a difficult weather year. Last year was the third wettest in the U.S. since 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.