NGF Top 100 Businesses in Golf
The NGF's Top 100 Businesses in Golf is a biennial list created to recognize the most successful, prominent, influential, successful and innovative companies in the U.S. golf industry. Also called the NGF GOLF 100, the initiative's focus is on companies and brands that deliver products and services primarily targeted to commercial golf.
The NGF GOLF 100 is a list - not a ranking - that is broken down by sectors and celebrates the sport's vitality, size and depth. The diverse list of companies contains not only the well-known brands that golfers see on TV, but highlights the innovators and influencers throughout various business segments that contribute to golf's nearly $100 billion annual economic impact.
Candidates were evaluated on seven weighted criteria, with financial success being a key component, in addition to growth rate and trajectory. Other assessments included influence throughout the golf industry, innovations, prominence and leadership within a particular category, and contributions to the growth and vitality of the game.
While professional golf tours and major associations are unquestionably big businesses in their own right – from the PGA TOUR and LPGA to PGA of America and USGA – associations and organizations are recognized separately from the GOLF 100 in this year's version to provide greater focus on businesses and brands that sell products or services geared toward the commercial or recreational side of golf. This also applies to agencies and prominent business partners and sponsors of major tours that are active and invested stakeholders in the game.
Golf may be particularly unique in the number of different companies that contribute to its economy; perhaps no other sport has such a broad array of businesses tied to the recreational side of a game played by tens of millions.
The GOLF 100 is the NGF's recognition of that depth and vitality.
The equipment industry is the most commercially visible sector in the golf business, with a host of household brands that produce the clubs and balls found in millions of golf bags around the world. Many of them also pay big money for endorsement deals with the game's top professionals, hoping to further enhance their recognition and appeal.
The equipment category for clubs and balls alone is almost a $4 billion annual market, but also extends to club components such as shafts and grips.
Based on wholesale equipment dollars, golf is among the largest recreation sports in the United States, trailing only camping and fishing. More money is spent every year on new clubs and balls than on equipment for sports like basketball, baseball and football combined. Thus, it perhaps comes as little surprise that the equipment sector, with 17 companies, is one of most heavily represented segments of the NGF GOLF 100. And several others (Titleist and Callaway) fall in the Portfolio Company category.
The course management side of the golf business continues to grow, as the number of U.S. golf courses working with third-party management companies or aligning with owner-operators has increased from almost 11% in 2006 to more than 16% today.
There are more than 200 companies with at least two golf facilities under management and about two-thirds of those manage or own/operate five facilities or fewer. Together, these businesses have almost 2,100 properties under management, including 10 companies with 40 or more courses in their portfolio.
In total, 15 companies hold spots in the NGF GOLF 100. This includes third-party management companies like Troon, Kemper and CourseCo; owner-operators such as Arcis, Concert and Escalante; a hybrid of the two like Invited; and businesses with course landscaping management interests (BrightView) or a combination of facility operations and development (Landscapes Unlimited).
The apparel & accessories sector in golf is diverse, ranging from companies that sell shoes, socks, polo shirts and outerwear to those that manufacture hats, gloves, sunglasses, golf bags and travel gear.
There's little question that looking the part is almost as important to many golfers on the course as playing the game. As anyone who has attended the annual PGA Merchandise Show can attest, it's why a host of companies specialize in golf apparel or have a dedicated golf division.
Even so, some clothing or shoe brands that are GOLF 100-worthy in their own right won't specifically be found in this category as they fall under the umbrella of a bigger parent company in equipment or elsewhere; think names like FootJoy (Acushnet), TravisMathew (Topgolf Callaway) or Puma (Cobra). The Apparel & Accessories sector still remains among the biggest, featuring 12 representatives in the NGF GOLF 100.
As the traditional game of golf evolves, the media & technology sector continues to get more diverse.
The range of products, good, high-tech gadgets and software in this category is geared toward either helping recreational golfers play better and improve their experience, or to aid operators in running their facilities, pro shops and tee sheets with greater efficiency.
There are rangefinders, indoor simulators, shot trackers and industry-leading app providers.
There is software for both club management and event management, including one that's used at almost two-thirds of golf courses in the U.S.
There is also representation from a variety of media properties, both established (Golf Channel) and more non-traditional (MyGolfSpy).
The landscape in golf's retail market has continued to evolve as much as any other sector.
The most successful companies in the space have continued to adapt during a time when recent market consolidation prompted a decline in the overall number of off-course golf retail locations.
E-commerce in general is growing, as online convenience influences the way consumers are purchasing products. Many traditional brick and mortar stores have migrated toward having a broader experiential, technical position, meaning locations where consumers can swing clubs and get real data and feedback relative to the performance of a given product. Meanwhile, specialty club-fitters and online retailers (including a secondary market) have become more prevalent as another option for golf’s most avid participants.
In total, nine U.S.-based golf retail companies - some of which feature sub-brands or have interests beyond traditional retail (such as instruction or fitting) - are represented in the NGF GOLF 100.
The turf and course supplies category might not have the most well-known companies in the NGF GOLF 100 (with the possible exception of golf car manufacturers), but the businesses and brands in this B2B sector help golf courses look their best, operate efficiently and, ultimately, keep customers happy.
On the turf side, this includes companies that make and sell mowers and maintenance equipment, irrigation technology, and the fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and growth regulators to keep a facility's most important product -- the course -- healthy and green. And then there are the nationwide distributors for many of the chemicals required by course superintendents and their crews.
On the facility supplies side, it's the biggest golf car businesses and companies that make all the other essentials a course needs to operate: from bunker rakes, cups and flags to tee markers, stakes and ball-washers.
A strictly business-to-facility (B2F) category, turf and course supplies is a deep and diverse mix, with 23 businesses included in the NGF GOLF 100.
In an effort to properly categorize a number of diverse, far-reaching businesses with a range of products and services, we've opted to categorize this segment as Portfolio Companies -- meaning they have a variety of prominent brands under a broad umbrella.
Perhaps the most notable examples are Acushnet, the holding company that includes two of the game's most well-known brands in FootJoy and Titleist, and Topgolf Callaway Brands Corp., which has positioned itself as a tech-enabled modern golf and active lifestyle company.
In coming years, several other established companies could end up in this category as well due to acquisitions of other brands in the industry.
The golf landscape is diverse indeed, necessitating a catch-all miscellaneous category for those businesses that don't necessarily fall into a specific bucket.
Some essentially created their own niche within the industry – in this case in the field of golf travel, lightning prediction and weather warning systems – or have become a standout in their own unique part of the broader golf business.
Associations & Organizations
Some of the well-known associations in golf may be the most noteworthy 'businesses' of them all - whether that's making money, growing the game, influencing the industry, or all of the above.
There certainly aren't many organizations with more clout in the sport than the professional tours, which make millions of dollars from corporate sponsorships and television deals while also activating player-development and charitable efforts, and championing vital diversity & inclusivity initiatives.
Other noteworthy trade associations in this category provide vital education, information and advocacy to their nationwide, and often global, membership -- from golf course owners and architects to superintendents and teaching professionals. The First Tee, meanwhile, is more than a player development program; it's more about providing youth with educational programs that build character, instill life lessons and promote healthy choices - all through the game of golf.
This year, associations have been excluded from the GOLF 100 in order to put a greater focus on businesses with products or services for the recreational game. But here are 10 of golf's most noteworthy associations/organizations:
- PGA TOUR
- PGA of America
- United States Golf Association
- Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA)
- The First Tee
- American Junior Golf Association (AJGA)
- American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA)
- Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA)
- National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA)
- Club Managers Association of America (CMAA)
From management and representation to marketing, branding, promotion, consulting, event communication and more, there are numerous agencies that have a significant footprint in the golf industry. Here are a handful or so of particularly notable business agencies:
- Buffalo Groupe
From tournaments and tours to organizations and players, golf is a game well-suited to corporate sponsorship.
The demographics of the typical golf fan reflect a highly desirable audience and the game's total reach represents about one-third of the U.S. population. Golf works well for companies that deal in both the business-to-business and consumer space and want to advance charitable causes in the local community. Corporate sponsors get more than an image boost by associating with the Tour’s charities, too, they get incremental national media exposure. Here are ten of the game's most significant business partners:
- Charles Schwab
- American Express