Since the early 1930’s, the NGF has kept the definitive database of U.S. golf facilities.
The NGF’s facility count has historically looked at “doors” – a business location where golf can be played at one or more golf courses.
So, a property like Bethpage State Park in New York is counted as one facility, but has five unique golf courses all served by a single clubhouse. The Streamsong Golf Resort in Florida is counted as two facilities, but three courses, as the original Red and Blue courses are served by one clubhouse and the property’s newer Black Course has a separate clubhouse of its own.
The terms “facility” and “course” are occasionally used interchangeably both in and out of the golf industry, but they can be quite different. Throughout the years, many media outlets have taken the NGF’s total number for facilities – there are 14,613 in the U.S. – and conflated that with courses. In actuality, there are 16,693 golf courses in the U.S. that have at least nine holes and, more typically, 18 holes.
So why the difference?
Equipment or apparel companies may look at how many facilities they work with from a sales perspective, trying to get in as many pro shops and clubhouses as possible, while a golf travel business or the public in general might be more focused on courses.
As for the NGF’s 18-hole equivalent number (18-HEQ), this is a measure of supply based on an 18-hole standard. For example, one 18-hole golf course equals one 18-hole equivalent, while two 9-hole golf courses also equal one 18-hole equivalent. Businesses in the turf and course supplier categories will often focus on this measure.
A golf facility with 27 holes can have a variety of measurements.
While it’s a single facility, it might have three separate courses (all nine holes) and is considered 1.5 18-HEQ. This is also why there are “half-course” increments in the NGF’s database of openings and closures, because some facilities might add a second nine-hole course after previously building the first, or downsize from 18 holes to nine.
The NGF originally counted only facilities in its earliest record-keeping, focusing solely on the number of businesses in the game. Because the various measurements mean different things to different stakeholders in the industry, these differences have been highlighted a bit further in the NGF’s latest Golf Facilities in the U.S. Report for clarity and transparency.