‘Significant Capacity for Growth’ in Billion-Dollar US Golf Tourism Industry

IAGTO's Peter Walton.
IAGTO’s Peter Walton.

Palm Springs, United States: While golf visitor numbers grew in 2015 for US golf courses, there is still significant capacity for ‘desirable’ growth from both the international and domestic golf travel sectors – with potential for as much as a 20% increase this year and beyond.
That is one of the initial findings from the year-long golf tourism survey being undertaken by the global golf tourism organisation, IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators).
IAGTO began its first nationwide golf tourism study last September following an announcement in June at its seventh North America Golf Tourism Convention (NAC) in Palm Springs that it was teaming up with Brand USA, the destination-marketing organisation for the US, on a major initiative to drive golf tourism to the United States.
IAGTO Chief Executive Peter Walton said: “Although we already carry out the most comprehensive global golf tourism survey annually, this is undoubtedly the most ambitious project that we have undertaken considering the sheer size and variety of the USA’s golf destinations and the number of golf courses involved.
“It was striking that only 2% of the participating courses kept accurate data on domestic and international visitor numbers, so providing them with a mechanism to achieve this simply and with minimum hassle was very well received.
“Golf courses participating in the survey will not only get a better idea of the direction that golf tourism within and to the USA is taking, but most importantly where they themselves are positioned within that national picture.”
Walton added that the project is on-going and the full findings will be presented at the eighth NAC at Pinehurst Resort, South Carolina, America’s Home of Golf, on June 27.
Key mid-term findings from the IAGTO US golf tourism survey:

  • All but one of the respondent facilities considered themselves to be attractive to the US domestic market, the exception being a state university golf course.
  • 93% of courses perceived themselves to be attractive to the international golf visitor and a further 4% were unsure of their appeal.
  • 96% were keen to receive more visiting golfers in 2016 and beyond.
  • 9.8% of visitor rounds were played by international golf travellers.
  • 44% of courses projected that golf visitor numbers would be up in 2015 compared to 2014, with only 6% experiencing or expecting a drop in visitor green fees.
  • There was much less certainty projecting international visitor numbers compared to domestic golf visitors, with 18% of courses unable to gauge whether international golf visitors would increase or decrease in 2015. This compared to only 7% of courses that were unsure about the trends of the domestic market, demonstrating that many courses did not have a good ‘handle’ on the international market.
  • Overall, international visitor rounds were expected to grow by 1.95% in 2015 with domestic visitor rounds growing by 1.80%. Of those courses experiencing an increase in visitor numbers, average growth per course in 2015 was expected to be 6.4% from international visitors and 7.4% from domestic visitors.
  • 83% of courses were able to calculate the capacity for growth in golf visitor rounds in 2016 and beyond. This ‘desirable capacity for growth’ represents 19.3% of existing visitor round numbers – meaning almost one extra golfer for every five golfers currently playing.
  • The average green fee of the respondent courses was US$86.40.
  • Total visitor green fee revenue, together with pro shop and food and beverage spend by visitors, exceeded US$530 million from the 230 participating courses alone.
  • 41% of courses stated that international golf visitors spent an average of 18% more per person in the pro shop and on food and beverages than domestic visitors.
  • Tens of millions of dollars were also generated directly by golf visitors in room night sales from only this small sample of golf courses and golf resorts.

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