A Boom in Beginners
During a prolific two-year span between 1999 and 2000, Tiger Woods won 17 PGA TOUR titles, including four majors. His visibility and popularity provided a boost to recreational golf, with more than 4.8 million Americans taking up the game for the first time in 1999 and 2000; many of them because of Woods.
Over the past two years, the number of beginning golfers in the U.S. is higher than it was back when Woods was at his most dominant. Almost 30% higher. In 2021, a record 3.2 million Americans played golf on a course for the first time. This after 3 million newcomers picked up golf in 2020 as the pandemic unfolded and people sought out safe, outdoor activities that could provide a sense of normalcy with friends and family.
Like the “Tiger Effect,” there’s no question the “Covid Effect” has been a force in its own right in terms of fostering golf engagement. But other factors have helped boost golf trials, too, among them the increased interest created by golf entertainment venues and other off-course forms of the game, and a more favorable public outlook on golf in general. It’s now been six straight years that the number of on-course beginners has exceeded the 2.4 million newcomers Tiger helped introduce to the game in both 1999 and 2000.
A funny thing happened around the turn of the century that isn’t talked about much, though. As overall participation increased, the average number of rounds played per golfer decreased. What that suggests is that many of those who gave the game a whirl at the time – perhaps because Tiger made it look cool – didn’t play very much.
By comparison, the average number of rounds played per golfer today continues to increase. Yes, it’s largely being driven by longtime, committed participants, but recent beginners are playing more often than in the past too. For the past four years, extending back to pre-pandemic days, newbies have averaged more than 12 rounds annually. Among beginners, this is an increase of more than 50% compared to just a decade ago.
Are we currently experiencing a Covid bubble? Time will tell, but early indicators suggest otherwise.
Joseph F Beditz, Ph.D.
President and Chief Executive Officer
National Golf Foundation
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