Tracking New Golfers

by Joseph Beditz

August 2020

It’s been two months since we reached fully-operational status at golf courses and the effects continue to ripple.

Among our more recent inquiries, perhaps none has been more popular than the impacts on beginners, returners and youth. Are we seeing a swell? The short answer is yes. Analysis of our monthly national participation data reveals a lift in all three groups in the second quarter.

The number of kids ages 6-17 who teed it up on a golf course in April, May and June is up considerably versus the average number who played during the same periods in 2018 and 2019. Based on mid-year numbers, our current best estimate is that we could see an increase of half a million junior golfers by year’s end (+20%). Our data also suggests that these newbies may actually be a little bit younger than usual, with an increase in the number of girls and about the same racial/ethnic diversity (~25% non-Caucasian) that we’re now accustomed to seeing among the junior set. All of this is very welcome news.

Looking more broadly, the number of overall beginning and returning golfers during the Q2 stretch appears equally significant – both about 20% higher than in recent years.

The question, as always, is whether we’ll be able to convert these fresh faces into committed customers. And that will depend on the experience they have at the golf course, which can no doubt be managed in a way that enhances satisfaction, fosters loyalty and improves retention. We could certainly improve in this way, as our participation bucket has been pretty leaky over the years when it comes to new trials.

Bear in mind, this inflow of new golfers will be offset, to some extent, by a natural churn that occurs every year. This may end up even more pronounced in 2020 due to Covid, as some golfers will elect not to play because of financial hardship or health and safety concerns. We have early indication of a slight decline in participation among the oldest age groups – who of course are at greater risk.

Speaking of overall participation, our friends at Golf Datatech report that rounds in June were up 14% over last year, confirming an industry-wide hunch and bringing the year-to-date position to -2% versus 2019. Every single state in the continental U.S. saw an increase in play in June. It’s quite a comeback story for golf, and anecdotal reports for July suggest that the surge in participation and rounds has continued now deep into summer.

We’ve updated our year-end rounds forecast with a “neutral” projection (assuming the second half of 2020 is in line with 2019) now showing us finishing the year down just one percent, much more favorable than we’d have expected two months ago. A more optimistic projection, based on the second half outperforming 2019 by 5%, would have us up about 2% over last year, which no one would have considered in mid-March. Of course, the second half could still underperform due to weather or the virus, so stay tuned.

Switching gears, Major League Baseball started its abbreviated season last week and, for you fans out there, here’s a video from 2013 highlighting the ballparks and some renowned golf courses in their vicinity.

And here’s a bonus trivia question you can use to win a drink from your buddies: Which MLB stadium has the most golf courses within a 5-mile radius? Click here to see the answer.

Until next time.

Joe

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