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After September Surge, Rounds +8.7% Year-to-Date

It’s been said that “Autumn is golf’s best season.” This year it could literally be true.

September rounds jumped almost a 26% versus a year ago, according to Golf Datatech. Percentage-wise, this is the largest YOY increase so far this year and represents about 12 million incremental rounds. (Thanks to all the golf courses that are supplying rounds played data to us and making these reports better and better. To add monthly numbers for your facility, please click here.)

Once again, every state in the continental U.S. saw increases in play of at least 2% over last year. That makes it three straight months now. A major drop in precipitation helped fuel a 46% September rounds-increase in Minnesota, while other “Big Ten” states also saw notable increases ahead of the start of the college football season: Illinois (+35%), Wisconsin (+29%), Michigan (+27%), Indiana (+27%) and Ohio (+26%).

Entering October, year-to-date rounds were up 8.7% nationally.

As a result, we have updated our year-end forecast based on two different scenarios: 1) rounds in the fourth quarter come in flat compared to last year; and, 2) 2020 rounds continue to outpace 2019 in the final three months by 15%. The graph below shows those assumptions would tell us that rounds for the year could finish up between 7% and 10%. A startling turnaround following a disastrous start to the spring.

Our upper +15% assumption for the rest of the year may not prove to be correct, but it isn’t unrealistic either, given the increases of 20%-and-better the past several months. When thinking about year-end, the fourth quarter represents just under 20% of annual rounds, and October has an outsized influence on those fourth quarter results.

Based on our interaction with several management companies, the surge in rounds has carried into October, so we’re feeling bullish about that year-end forecast. In late October, Troon-operated resort and daily fee facilities were seeing a 28% increase in rounds, not factoring in those courses in Hawaii and others impacted by closures such as fires in California or seasonal overseeding. Troon Golf Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kris Strauss said demand for tee times continues to be especially high at the operator’s daily fee courses and private clubs.

“Daily fee clubs reliant on localized business are faring best,” Strauss said. “Resort courses still have some `headwinds’ relative to the stoppage of groups, conventions and meetings, but many locales have been able to replace those with regional or localized rounds and play.”

The trajectory has been similar for Indigo Golf Partners, which recently changed its name from Billy Casper Golf and is the country’s largest manager in the public play category — owning or operating more than 160 golf courses in 29 states.

“During the pandemic, the vast majority of our courses have set records for rounds and revenue which continued in the month of October,” company executives said.

A couple of things to bear in mind. All these extra rounds do not benefit everyone in golf equally. There are several business segments, such as resort golf, that are not enjoying a “V” recovery. And second, significant increases in rounds played don’t necessarily indicate the same is happening with golf participation. While we’ve recorded noticeable increases in juniors and beginners, the stocks and flows of our consumer base may end up evening things out in the end.

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