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Rounds Played Continue at Elevated Levels

The most frequently asked question since the beginning of the year, and even before then, was whether the elevated level of golf activity (equipment sales, rounds played, overall participation) would maintain in 2021. We’ve been hedging our answer all this time. Now, we’ve had our first real test – comparing peak season months – and the results look pretty good.

The latest rounds report from Golf Datatech showed play up 0.4% nationally for June and +23% YTD. More importantly, at least to NGF, is that year-to-date rounds are still running 19% ahead of the 2017-19 average.

Something else we noticed in the latest data – a return to more normal weather-induced variances. Rounds were down in regions experiencing above average rainfall, and up in areas with below average precipitation. Also of note, year-to-date rounds at public courses are up 26%, versus 13% at private clubs. This is a reversal from last year when rounds gains at private clubs exceeded those at public courses. For more detail, click here.

One industry CEO I recently talked with noted that it would be great if rounds just continued to match last year. I agree. In fact, if we continue to ‘just’ match last year’s banner summer and fall, we’ll end the year up 9% over 2020 and +24% over the 2017-19 (pre-Covid) period. Wouldn’t that be something.

Another way we keep our eye on U.S. demand for rounds is by monitoring Google search indices. Going back more than a dozen years, the variance in monthly searches for golf balls has been pretty closely aligned with actual rounds played. Right now, search popularity for golf balls sits slightly below 2020, while still running well ahead of 2019. Will this be the trend that rounds played follows in July?

The further we get into the year, the tougher it is for us to continue hedging our answer about the sustainability of golf’s surge. July is in the books and August will bring the summer months to a close. At that point, we should have a pretty solid feel for how the year is going to turn out.

Joseph Beditz
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