We’ve talked recently about the boom in participation across Europe, but we wanted to dig a bit deeper closer to home.
According to a Sports Marketing Surveys report released this year, golf's post-pandemic popularity has been much the same on the greens of Great Britain.
The report showed that the number of adults playing golf in Great Britain in 2020 skyrocketed. Participation grew from 3,086,000 people in 2019, to 5,234,000 in 2020. That’s almost 10% of the entire population.
Driving ranges are cool
It was a similar story for golfers who only play shorter formats of the game; on driving ranges and at par-three courses or pitch and putt venues. All three saw record levels of participation in 2020, proving there’s a real appetite for shorter formats of the game.
It also proves we need to get out of this thinking that you have to play 18 holes to actually “play” golf.
That wouldn’t be the case in a lot of other sports. I like to run, taking part in my local 5k Park Run on Saturdays. I’ve never run a marathon though. Does that mean I don’t really run? No.
And there are plenty of opportunities to come from widening our thinking and accepting new formats of the game more openly.
We know that driving ranges and short courses are a great way of transitioning new golfers into full-time club members. And with formats that take less time, we open the game up to people that might otherwise be excluded; parents, full-time workers, families on lower incomes … the list could go on.
We’re already seeing a lot of investment in driving ranges and interactive experiences like Pitch in London. Tech like Trackman lets you play games and simulate playing on the course. Lots of driving ranges play music and some even have bars serving food and drinks.
Gone are the days that driving ranges are reserved for serious golfers, alignment sticks and boring drills. Today, they’re all about making the game more accessible, more interactive and ultimately, fun.
They’re cool places to be, they get more people into the game and they’re helping shift the perception of golf.
Clubs around the country could learn a lot from these types of venues.
Even as someone who has played golf for years, I can tell you it’s a lot easier walking into a chilled-out driving range than it is a golf club.
Men vs women
For comparison, the report also looked at the gender split of people playing other sports in 2020.
Cycling, running and tennis were all roughly a 50/50 split of men and women. However, the percentage of men vs women in golf was much less equal: only 28% of people who played golf in Great Britain in 2020 were women.
There is a glimmer of hope though. That number actually represents a 12% increase since 2019.
It’s slow progress but progress nonetheless.
What is promising though is that the report showed we’re moving towards a much more equal split of men and women taking up the game.
Of the people who played golf for the first time in 2020, 44% were women and 56% were men.
Compare that to the percentage of people who considered themselves a golfer before the pandemic – 20% women and 80% men – and it proves things are changing.
The report also showed that of the people who returned to the game after at least a year, more than half were women.
The industry now has a real opportunity to keep those women in the game – in whatever format that looks like – and attract more to the sport too.
I’ve talked before about this, but one of the most significant changes the industry needs to make is to focus less on the what and more on the how.
We know there are external factors that put women off playing golf. Time is one that springs to mind.
But how internal factors like inclusivity, fairness and equality play a huge role in being able to attract and retain women to the game.
Is age just a number?
When it comes to growing the game, no. Attracting young people to golf is critical if we want to keep growing the sport in the future.
According to the report, the smallest proportion of people who played golf were in the 18 – 34 and 35 – 54 age categories.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
These groups were actually more likely to have returned to play or taken up the sport for the first time in 2020.
And in general, lapsed golfers returning to the game and people trying golf for the first time were younger after the pandemic than before it.
That’s great news for all of us, but what caused it?
Golf was somewhat immune to the restrictions bought about by COVID-19. Between lockdowns, social distancing and outdoor mixing, golf gave us all an opportunity to break free from the four walls of our homes. It was a chance to get some fresh air, exercise and socialise.
But with more people working from home and most other activities off the cards, the crux of it is that people had more time.
And if you ask me, that explains the growth.
What we need to do to keep younger people in the game is to find ways they can fit golf into their schedules, which will inevitably get busier again. We need shorter formats, flexible membership options and ways to combine golf with other things – like spending time with family and friends.
Like this article? Then read this next: Does golf need to take 100% responsibility?