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Looking Back / Looking Ahead

NGF President & CEO Greg Nathan

2023 was a very positive year for the golf business. The professional game has a way of dominating the media narrative on golf – and there was no shortage of passionate opinion in the coverage of competing tours and distance regulation.  However, the recreational side of the game might actually be the bigger story, thriving with a continued resurgence not seen in decades. The state of the golf industry is strong.

While the NGF community of members and clients includes the governing bodies and tours who inspire golfers everywhere, we are best known as an organization that serves the businesses and people dedicated to the recreational side of the game. This encompasses companies serving golfers and others who supply golf courses or support the thousands of businesses that help make golf great.

For 88 years, the NGF has been committed to this industry and the people who make their living in golf. It’s undoubtedly an exciting time to be working in this game and we’ve just published the Graffis Report, our view of the current business situation and trends that will impact its future. Considering the thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars NGF invests to help make our members the best-informed people in golf, perhaps it’s ironic that 2023 is the kind of year where we could deliver a state-of-the-industry in around 30 seconds:

  • Rounds are up
  • On-course participation is up
  • Off-course participation is up
  • Female engagement at a high-water mark
  • Beginners are at record levels
  • The participant base is becoming increasingly diverse
  • Facility revenue and financial health is up
  • Golf course utilization is at its highest level of capacity in decades
  • Closures are down and openings are up
  • More people are playing, watching and reading about golf than ever, and in more ways!
  • We see younger people attracted to golf’s brand and embracing this crazy game.
  • Dare we say it… golf is cool… and we’re all here for it!

You’ll find details on those key metrics, and more, in the latest Graffis Report – now available for members — as well as future NGF publications, Fortnight newsletters and additional content on

The current momentum and success enjoyed at many green grass golf facilities – the nearly 14,000 across the country – does not mean every business is thriving. The $100B+ golf industry includes many facets and business categories. Many of these businesses (including courses) are finding it difficult and more costly to find good people, and the cost of goods has increased substantially. Others see headwinds caused by supply chain back-ups or cautious consumerism.

And some businesses aren’t breaking records… because they just broke them! Many companies that supply recreational golfers had their best revenue years of all-time in 2020 and 2021. Perspective is an amazing thing.  2023 performance wasn’t great for everyone, but compare most businesses’ 2023 results to 2018 rather than year-over-year, and they’d probably be ecstatic. Most business leaders don’t have that luxury, as YOY growth is expected.

The golf business itself is cyclical. A category that’s down slightly this year might be up significantly a year or two from now.

Course operators thinking they can kick back (not likely!) and not make upgrades and improvements to their product and customer service efforts because they’re perceived to be “killing it right now” might be in a very different position a few years down the road.  Adapting to change and pursuit of constant improvement are goals to embrace.

We can be delighted that the population of green grass golfers grew by around one million people, yet nearly six million people played on course golf in 2023 who didn’t play in 2022! That should tell you that golf is still pretty intimidating for those not already comfortable in the environment. Think about the opportunity the industry has in front of it… if only we could make golf a more welcoming place for beginners… and convert more trials into committed golfers!

What’s wonderful about the continued strong demand – more golfers playing more rounds – is that it’s momentum from which all blessings flow.

We know what we know because NGF is the trade association for golf businesses. We’re the only organization that serves every vertical within the industry and get a broad and deep look at the entire ecosystem. We’re also a strategic partner and expert advisor for golf businesses.  Not only does our team study the industry with our proprietary data and analytics, but we have the good fortune to work closely with the leaders of the top companies and entrepreneurial start-ups. We’re not just academics. We talk with more businesses in more sectors on a regular basis than anyone in the game. It’s that 360-degree view that benefits companies who align with NGF through membership or private research, consulting or marketing engagements.

For my part, I want to express my deepest appreciation for your support. You inspire us and make our best work possible.

Without your invaluable funding, our team of NGF researchers – the most passionate, experienced and thoughtful in the business – wouldn’t be able to pursue NGF’s mission to supply the golf industry with expert guidance on a regular basis.

I encourage you to reach out to me and the team early this year. I promise you ideas and unique assets to help you compete more effectively.

Greg Nathan
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