The start of a new decade brings the second installment of the National Golf Foundation’s Top 100 Businesses in Golf initiative, an effort that highlights the vitality, size and diversity of the $84 billion golf industry.
A biennial compilation that debuted in 2018, the NGF GOLF 100 recognizes and celebrates the most successful, prominent and influential companies, organizations and associations in the U.S. — the world’s biggest golf market.
The range of golf businesses is vast, from public companies with numerous brands under their umbrella to mom-and-pop driving ranges that have been family-owned for decades. The industry also runs the gamut in terms of goods and services. The biggest and most successful equipment manufacturers might be instantly-recognizable thanks to sizable marketing budgets and clubs used by millions of golfers across the country. Meanwhile, huge turf care supply companies that are the lifeblood of course superintendents might remain relatively unknown to the most hardcore golf fan.
The NGF GOLF 100 is a list – not a numerical ranking – that highlights those businesses of fundamental importance to the industry, to both facilities and consumers, while sharing stories of innovation, leadership, success and growth. In some respects, it is the business equivalent of rankings that identify the top 100 golf courses in the U.S. This objective and holistic view of the golf industry is a natural extension of the NGF’s core belief to create smarter, more energized golf businesses through the game’s most accurate and objective data and insights.
The NGF GOLF 100 includes various sectors throughout the golf industry, from apparel and equipment companies to turf equipment and supply companies, course builders and management companies. It’s why you’ll find Top 100 representatives that range from equipment juggernauts Callaway and TaylorMade to turf care behemoth Toro and the world leader in course operations, Troon.
Among the newcomers to the 2020 list are Discovery Golf, which has forged partnerships with the PGA TOUR and Tiger Woods while acquiring an original NGF GOLF 100 company in Golf Digest. Other additions include Thor Guard, an industry leader in lightning prediction and warning systems; Golfballs.com, a $25 million-a-year customization specialist; Gallus Golf, whose mobile app technologies and marketing solutions help golf facilities connect with customers and enhance the golf experience; and Aquatrols, a world leader in the development of cutting-edge soil surfactants and wetting agents.
Times have changed just a bit since the NGF’s founding in 1936, when the nation was still reeling from the Great Depression and many golf-related companies were on the brink of bankruptcy. At the time, six of the biggest ball and equipment manufacturers were persuaded to kick in funds to get the NGF started: Wilson Sporting Goods, Spalding, Hillerich & Bradsby, U.S. Rubber, Worthington Ball Co. and MacGregor Golf.
Today, the NGF is still supported by a myriad of golf-related businesses that represent every segment of the market. These companies – and NGF member courses, clubs, associations, management groups, designers and media – rely on NGF research, resources and consulting to support and influence their strategic planning and decision-making. It’s why the majority of the Top 100 has NGF membership affiliation to some extent. The NGF GOLF 100 is limited to businesses (along with organizations or associations) whose primary focus is the golf industry or that have a dedicated golf division.
Eight distinct weighted criteria were taken into consideration when assessing individual companies or organizations. Financial success is a key component of the selection process, with companies and organizations evaluated by their annual revenue figures and their overall growth rate and trajectory. Other more subjective criteria were also factored in, including assessments on influence throughout the golf industry, innovations, prominence and leadership (both within the sport and a particular category), and contributions to the growth and vitality of the game, as well as to the collective societal good.
The NGF GOLF 100 is limited to the U.S. market, which is home to almost half of all the world’s golf courses. As a result, the list includes companies and organizations that are based in the U.S. or have their golf-related headquarters located within the U.S.
New in 2020 is The International 25, an extension of the GOLF 100 that recognizes industry leaders based outside the U.S. On this list, you’ll find important organizations such as the R&A and the PGA European Tour, a booming golf simulator business such as South Korea-based GOLFZON, a massive Japan-based course management company like Accordia, or a retailer such as Canada’s Golf Town.
The equipment industry – perhaps the most publicly-visible sector with prominent club, ball, grip and shaft brands – leads the way with 20 companies in the NGF GOLF 100.
Acushnet, with more than $1.6 billion in annual sales spurred by its famous Titleist and Footjoy brands, may be the biggest player in this category — one that also includes household names like Bridgestone, Callaway, Cleveland/Srixon, Cobra Puma, Mizuno, PING, PXG, and TaylorMade. Five shaft companies and three grip businesses are also in the equipment sector.
Golf wouldn’t exist without companies that keep its courses running smoothly on a day-to-day basis, from mowers and golf carts to everyday items like flags, cups and ball washers. It’s why the turf and course supply sector trails only the equipment category with 19 businesses represented in the NGF GOLF 100.
There are a number of well-known names in this category, among them golf car suppliers Club Car and Yamaha, and companies like Toro and John Deere that supply a large portion of the industry’s mowers and other course maintenance equipment. A business like Textron, meanwhile, is prominent in both of those markets with its E-Z-GO and Jacobsen brands.
There are also companies that the majority of golfers may not recognize, but owe a debt of gratitude to for the chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides they produce and provide to keep golf courses healthy. This group within the turf care sector includes businesses such as Bayer Environmental, BASF Corp, Lebanon Turf, and PBI-Gordon, while Rain Bird and Hunter join Toro on the list as the biggest golf course irrigation companies in the game.
And then there are the companies that provide essential course accessories like tee markers, flags and flagsticks, bunker rakes, yardage markers, cups and ball-washers. Par Aide and Standard Golf, a pair of decades-old Midwest-based businesses, are the clubhouse leaders in facility-related supplies.
The apparel and accessory category is also well-represented in the NGF GOLF 100, with 13 business-to-consumer companies, among them adidas, Under Armour and Nike (apparel and footwear), Oakley (sunglasses), Imperial and AHEAD (hats), and Sun Mountain (golf bags and outerwear).
The consumer-related media and technology sector includes Golf Channel and publications like GOLF Magazine and Golfweek/USA Today, high-tech shot-tracking Arccos, a leading tournament software provider in Golf Genius, and golf simulator company Full Swing Golf.
Third-party management companies are big business in the golf world, particularly the biggest of the bunch. The top 10 management companies run more than 850 facilities in the U.S., almost 38% of those under management. In all, there are 12 golf operations companies in the NGF GOLF 100, from Arcis Golf to Trump Golf. The golf arm of President Donald Trump’s business empire operates 19 facilities worldwide, including 12 in the U.S., a roster that includes the four-course Doral resort in Miami and seven courses throughout New York and New Jersey.
PGA TOUR Superstore and DICK’S Sporting Goods/Golf Galaxy are among six NGF GOLF 100 companies in the retail space, a group that also includes Golfballs.com, Global Value Commerce, TGW and Worldwide Golf.
Umbrella companies run by Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Tiger Woods that dip into a multitude of pursuits – from course design and philanthropy to apparel and technology – are included in the catch-all Miscellaneous category. That sector also includes Topgolf and competitor Drive Shack Inc., the company that encompasses the Drive Shack golf-entertainment complexes in addition to American Golf, long one of the game’s top owner/operators.
Perhaps some of the associations in golf are the most noteworthy businesses of all, whether that’s making money, growing the game and/or influencing the industry. There aren’t many organizations with more clout in the sport than the PGA TOUR and the USGA, which both make millions of dollars from corporate sponsorships and television deals while simultaneously activating far-reaching player-development and charitable initiatives.
While golf fans might only see clubs, ball and apparel companies on TV, the NGF GOLF 100 is designed to celebrate they myriad different business segments that contribute to the game.