The weather picture for 2018 wasn’t a pretty one for golf, contributing to a 4.8 percent decline in rounds-played nationally.
After hovering around 460 million for the previous five years, the U.S. rounds-played total dipped to 434 million in 2018 and play was down, year-over-year, in 11 of 12 months. Golf operators around the country lamented the weather’s impact, with many businesses affected in large part by colder weather that shortened the shoulder seasons for golf and heavier precipitation than normal during the busiest months.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted that 2018 was the third-wettest year for the continental U.S. dating back to 1895.
Almost 25 percent of the approximately 2,800 cities and municipalities analyzed by Climate Central reported that 2018 was among their top-10 wettest years on record and most of those are concentrated in the Northeast and around the Great Lakes. This is particularly noteworthy from a golf standpoint because there is also a significant clustering of facility supply in those areas.
April typically signifies the start of the golf season in many regions, and national rounds for that month in 2018 were off 13.5% from a year earlier as unusually cold temperatures delayed the start of spring in certain geographies. September, which is the last hurrah of summer and the start of the fall golf season in some regions, was down 7.2% because of significant precipitation increases. November saw the biggest year-over-year decrease in national rounds-played (-18.8%) of any month dating back to 2013.
Typically, Mother Nature accounts for an annual fluctuation of between 2% and 3%.
ClubCorp CEO David Pillsbury, who leads the biggest operator of private clubs in the U.S., acknowledged just how tough last year was in terms of weather.
“We had around 55 more rain days or weather-impacted play days in 2018 than we had in 2017,” he said. “That’s almost two months more of poor weather. ‘18 was one of the most difficult years I’ve seen in 30 years.”
For a game like golf, which is the No. 1 pay-for-play participation sport played outdoors, bad weather has a particularly acute impact.
“Of 218 available days for play (during the 2018 season), we had 88 with some amount of rain and 22 were complete washouts,” said Bryan Barrington, the superintendent at Oxford Greens in Oxford, Connecticut. “That’s a new record for us, and 20 more days of precipitation than in 2017.”
John Foster, the General Manager of the University of Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course in South Bend, Indiana, said 2018 brought the worst weather he’s seen in his 17 years at the school. He described it as a “weird year,” but also says he isn’t sure what normal is anymore when it comes to the weather.
“If it’s not too dry, it’s too wet. If it’s not too hot, it’s too cold. The past seven or eight years we have not had what one would call a normal golf season from a weather standpoint,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s global warming or what, but our weather patterns are just totally different than what one would think would be normal. It’s unpredictable.”