Florida, United States: Fortuitous weather, especially during the second half of last year, helped increase rounds played activity in America in 2015, resulting in the industry’s first year-over-year growth in rounds played since 2012.
According to the National Rounds Played Coalition, (comprised of course-reported rounds played submitted to Golf Datatech, the National Golf Foundation, PGA of America and the National Golf Course Owners Association), total US rounds grew by nearly 2% last year compared to 2014.
The increase was due in large part to unseasonably mild temperatures during the fall and early winter months in typically colder regions. Those conditions allowed many courses to remain open late into the year, prompting increased play among golfers that are often sidelined during November and December.
According to Coalition figures reported by Golf Datatech, monthly rounds played between October and December grew by an average of 12% versus 2014 (including nearly 20% in November alone) as regions such as New England, the Midwest and the West North Central enjoyed Mother Nature’s goodwill. In fact, total playable days grew by 4%, according to PGA PerformanceTrak.
Overall, more than half the states realised year-over-year growth in rounds played last year. Among those were states rich in golf accessibility such as Michigan (+11%), Ohio (+8%), Washington (+8%), Oregon (+5%) and Virginia (+3.4%).
These gains in rounds helped facilities finish 2015 slightly ahead of the previous year in total median revenue (PGA Performance Trak). This growth in rounds, revenue and playable days took place despite the fact that 2015 was the third wettest year on record nationally, according to weather.com.
So what does Mother Nature have in store for the golf industry in 2016?
According to Weather Trends International, a large swath of America can expect their spring golf season to be similar to what we saw last year. This forecast looks especially promising for the Southwest region (Texas, New Mexico and Arizona).
While weather in the first two months of this year has been less than favourable, if the spring forecast holds up, operators can expect golfer activity to be on par with last year. History suggests that roughly 40% of all annual rounds are played between the months of March and June.
Of course, rounds are not entirely tethered to weather. Many operators are pointing towards improving economic conditions and recent increased activity among golf’s most committed customers as sources of realised and expected growth.
Average rounds-per-golfer have steadily increased since 2003 and golfers averaged just shy of 20 rounds played last year. That’s a slight increase over 2013 and 2014, and the best since 2012.
“We’re already 20% ahead of bookings in 2016 than we were at this point in 2015,” said Michael O’Reilly, Head Golf Professional at Whistling Straits, an NGF member since 2000 and host to the 2020 Ryder Cup. “I really don’t think that’s all about weather. We’re seeing the re-emergence of corporate business and increased play among our best customer base. I attribute it more to improving economics that will benefit golf at all levels.”
Jeremy Hayman, General Manager of Sedona Golf Resort, was among those operators who reported an increase in rounds without the benefit of 2015s positive weather trends. The popular Arizona resort, which is located in the shadow of the Red Rock Mountains, saw fewer playable days in early 2015, but still realised a modest increase in rounds by the end of the year.
“I would say we have definitely seen an increase in member play and rounds among our core golfers in general,” said Hayman. “Given our location (higher elevation), we didn’t see the same weather benefits as Phoenix and Scottsdale did, but we still realised positive growth in rounds played among our best customers. That’s an encouraging trend for our industry.”