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Inertia – Where is it taking golf?

Newton’s first law of motion deals with inertia. An object in motion – say it with me – stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Beginning around the turn of the century and over the course of two decades, the number of golf rounds played in the U.S. had been trending downward – a result of not only fewer players but also declining frequency among those still active. From 2000 to 2019, the volume of golfers playing 25 or more rounds in a given year was cut in half. Think about that.

Golf, like so many other things in the pre-internet world, had been an unbreakable routine for many millions of Americans. Only acts of God could get in the way of someone’s Saturday and Sunday morning tee times. Objects in motion stay in motion.

But the internet changed things for golf. It brought new distractions, ideas and opportunities, and effectively broke the inertia of standing tee times. In fact, there’s little coincidence that golf demand in the U.S. – whether measured in rounds, equipment purchases, Google searches or anything else – truly began to wane as social media spread beyond early adopters and tech geeks.

The pandemic, of course, broke inertia too. Routines changed overnight and the winds suddenly began to blow at golf’s back again. No travel, no ballgames, fewer office commutes. But there was golf, and we all know how that went. Rounds in 2020 were almost unthinkably high – we erased 20 years of decline in about six months. There were more beginning and returning players than ever before, but existing golfers increased their play in a significant way too. When asked to explain these increases, the majority response was about golf being the only game in town (in August 2020, 67% credited their increased play to “having fewer alternative ways to spend leisure time”).

We all wondered how 2021 would go. Would demand maintain, or regress as people presumably fell back into old routines? Emphatically, the former. Over the past year we measured more rounds at golf courses across the United States than ever before. Ever. Think about that.

 NGF members interested in the 2022 National Rounds Played Report can access that here.

What’s even more encouraging than the record itself is what’s behind it. A year later – this past October – when we again asked golfers to explain their increases in play, the majority response had shifted, with 56% saying golf had become “more of a priority.” Objects in motion.

As we look ahead and consider what 2022 will bring, the obvious challenge will be to not only retain new and returning players, but to keep the devoted core engaged at these higher levels. In both cases, doing so will require creative engagement strategies. Key word: “strategies.”

This is not a passive issue, and so the question must move from “Will demand maintain?” to “How are we keeping golf demand in motion?”

We’d love to hear how you’re creating inertia at your course or business. Drop us a line!


David Lorentz
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