Editor Emma Ballard gives her thoughts on the new "Golf for All" research initiative from The Professional Golfers' Association
Last month, The Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) released details from their research initiative with Ispos called "Golf for All". The aim was to "define the future of golf by uncovering the evolving dynamics of golf participation and challenging traditional perceptions of the game."
The key finding of the report revealed that 40% of all adults in the UK and Ireland engaged with golf in some capacity, which equated to 22.4 million individuals. Of those 22.4 million people engaged with golf, 16.3 million are playing any form of golf – from adventure golf to pitch and putt – whilst 4.9 million are playing golf ‘on course’.
The conclusion: a sizeable opportunity to engage with a large audience that don’t play the on-course forms of golf.
But what about women specifically? The data suggested that a ‘golfer’ – when excluding full/short course golf – is almost as likely to be female as male (47% vs 53%), while the profile of strictly on-course golfers is what may be expected of a ‘traditional’ golfer, with a much larger percentage of those being male.
To give this a little context, The R&A Global Golf Participation Report 2023 stated that 13% (155,147) of registered club golfers were female.
PGA Chief Executive Robert Maxfield:
“In particular, we can see that there is huge scope for the game to welcome the huge population of females who are already engaged in golf but don’t perhaps already consider themselves as ‘golfers’. In turn, the industry will be able to modernise its perception and diversify its user base, providing an opportunity which is truly exciting and should be embraced.”
Why does everyone have to be a 'golfer'?
When I received the two press releases regarding the PGA's findings, I thought of three things. One was that it was no surprise that off-course golf offering has more of a 50/50 female/male split. Just by the nature of these sorts of activities, crazy golf, pitch and putt and interactive driving ranges tend to attract families. Secondly, why does everyone have to become a 'golfer' and thirdly why would this data automatically mean we just try and attract female golfers?
Let me explain.
How many of you have been to a bowling alley with your family and/or friends or played darts at a Flight Club, maybe even tried Sixes Social Cricket? In fact, I even got an email this week about The Curling Club! All extremely fun and entertaining experiences but I wouldn't come away calling myself a 'bowler' or a 'curler'.
Of course, there is a chance that it may pique my interest but I believe that the majority of participants in any of these activities are there to have fun and not necessarily to pick up a new hobby.
As an industry, we have to accept that people are going to enjoy playing adventure golf but have no desire to take full swings on a golf course. Golf can be entertainment and you don't need to be a 'golfer'.
Please don't think that I mean we have no hope with this group of over 16 million adults, but we have to discount a large number of them and with the data generated, the biggest takeaway for me is not to target women specifically but families.
The three Ps to on course participation
In my mind, there are three Ps that could have the biggest impact on getting more families from a summer holiday activity by the beach to teeing it up at their local golf club.
I have no idea how doable this is but if golf clubs want to attract some of these families using stand-alone off-course golf facilities, then maybe partnerships can be built to create a pathway from crazy golf to the golf course. A simple example is call to action signage on entry and exit.
Apart from playing for the entertainment value, another reason there are a lot of families playing off course compared to on course golf, in the majority of cases there is no clear pathway between the two.
Purpose built facilities
Golf It! in Glasgow is a perfect example of a facility that is purpose built to get anyone from off course golf onto the golf course. From adventure golf, to park golf, to the driving range and nine holes (with many tee options).
These sorts of golf facilities provide the perfect pathway for families to go through the stages together. Add in a fun, relaxed atmosphere and the potential stigmas around 'traditional' golf and golfers are also removed.
At the heart of it all and as this 'Golf for All' research has come from the PGA, the PGA Professional plays a pivotal role in the journey of any non-golfer to golfer. They will most likely be the first port of call for the non-golfer at golf clubs and driving ranges.
Many PGA Pros are already working tirelessly to get more people into golf. I know from my local pro that he gets enquiries daily about beginner golf lessons. For those not as busy, there is the potential to use this latent market to bolster their client base and teaching groups.
My only concern with this P is whether the industry has the capacity at a coaching level to facilitate an increase in interest from the customer base that has been identified. Something that I don't know the answer to.
There is no doubt that these initial research findings from the PGA, although not surprising, are encouraging. If we target the whole family, there will be a natural knock-on effect of attracting more women onto golf courses, and at a greater rate.
I look forward to seeing more results and insights published over the coming months which will delve deeper into traditional and non-traditional golf facilities, which in turn should help the golf industry build a robust action plan to future-proof the sport.
Read the full Golf for All report here.