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Participation and Engagement Rise Again

With the Omicron variant leading us into year three of Covid-19, the virus seemingly continues to benefit golf even while hampering parts of the economy and frustrating millions ready to be ‘done’ with it.

NGF’s participation research shows overall golf participation increased by 600,000 to 37.5MM in 2021 (+2%) with growth split evenly between on- and off-course. We finished the year with an almost-equal number of participants falling into three groups: 1) those who participated only on-course; 2) those who participated only off-course; and 3) those who enjoyed both on- and off-course play.


While the participation group sizes may be roughly the same, the demographics are anything but. The average age of an off-course only participant is almost two decades younger than on-course only players (30 versus 45). Off-course participants also skew closer to the U.S. population in terms of gender and race-ethnicity – more likely to be female and people of color. They’re relatively affluent too, with 41% reporting household incomes at or above $100,000.

A closer look at on-course participants (golfers) in 2021 shows a continuing trend towards diversification – spurred in some respect by the heightened interest and engagement being generated by off-course forms of golf.  Women now comprise 25% of golfers, and people of color 21%, both groups having increased meaningfully over the past five years. The total number of youth golfers remained stable in 2021, but this cohort’s size has increased by almost 25% over the past three years alone, to more than 3 million.

This past year we again saw an unusually high number of beginners, 3.2 million, who played golf on a golf course for the first time. This increase parallels the buildup in the number of non-golfers who say they are ‘very interested’ in playing golf on a golf course. We continue to draw from this latent demand pool, which has increased by 20% over just the past five years (up to 18 million).

As previously reported, 2021 rounds played will finish ahead of 2020 … we predict in the neighborhood of 5%. An amazing result given the 13% increase the year before.

For readers who are NGF members, you can access the state-of-industry Graffis Report now {Click Here} and find a compilation of many of the game’s key data points for 2021 in a single publication, from participation and engagement to rounds-played, golf course supply and development, retail supply, golf’s reach, and much more.

If you are planning to be in Orlando next week for the PGA Merchandise Show, I invite you to attend our presentation on the state of the game and business of golf. NGF’s Chief Research Officer, David Lorentz, will be on the PGA of America Hub’s main stage at 10am on Wednesday talking State of Industry and some trends shaping golf’s present and future. We will be in Room W208A at the show, so please come by and say hello. We would love to connect with you, hear your thoughts and talk about what we are (or could be) digging into next.

Joseph Beditz
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