SMS Research Reveals Thriving Golfing Landscape

Picture by The R&A.

St Andrews, Scotland: New figures reveal golf participation in Great Britain and Ireland in 2021 remained strongly above pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels.

Research led by The R&A together with England Golf, Golf Ireland, Scottish Golf and Wales Golf demonstrates how the sport is still thriving despite competing leisure activities becoming available again.

Two new participation reports show that 5.3 million on-course adult golfers – the second-highest number since monitoring began over 30 years ago – enjoyed playing on full length courses (nine or 18 holes) in Great Britain and Ireland in 2021. This includes a marginal increase in Ireland and a slight reduction in Great Britain.

Golf enjoyed a significant boom during the pandemic due to its ability to be played safely and proven benefits in boosting mental and physical health. The latest data shows that participation in golf is still well above the rates in the years prior to Covid-19.

In Great Britain, the number of on-course adults began to gradually increase before Covid-19, rising from 2.5 million in 2017 to three million in 2019, before surging to a peak of 5.2 million in 2020. The latest figures show that 4.8 million golfers played in 2021.

With less restrictions on play in 2021, the new figures also reveal that avid golfers more than doubled, there was an increase in female golfers and the use of driving ranges and par-three courses remained high.

Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said: “It is extremely positive that the number of on-course adult golfers remained so strong in Great Britain and Ireland last year.

“The vast majority of lapsed or non-golfers who took up golf during the pandemic have continued to play, with the sport remaining very popular in the use of full-length courses, driving ranges and alternative golf venues in particular.

“Golfers are enjoying positive experiences of the sport, supported by a wide range of participation initiatives and communication around the benefits of the sport for physical and mental health. It is important to maintain this momentum and ensure golfers enjoy the sport at all levels.”

Both reports were produced by Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS), a Full Business Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.

Key highlights from the 2021 Great Britain Golf Participation Report:

  • At 4.8 million, total adult golfers on a full-length course (nine or 18 holes) remains considerably above the three million in 2019 pre-pandemic level, albeit down from 5.2 million in 2020
  • Female golfer full course users increased to 34% of golfers (1.4 million to 1.6 million)
  • Avid golfers (who played more than 52 times) more than doubled from 149,000 to 339,000
  • Over 3.5 million people used a driving range – the second highest figure of the last 20 years
  • Par-three course users rose from 27,000 to 41,000, similar to the figures between 2012-2016
  • The average age of golfers was 41, the same as in 2020
  • 15% of the population tried or started golf again in any on or off-course format because of the pandemic (in 2020 or 2021)

Key highlights from the 2021 Ireland Golf Participation Report:

  • Total adult golfers on a full-length course (nine or 18 hole) marginally increased from 540,000 to 543,000
  • Female golfer full course users increased to 21% of golfers (70,000 to 111,000)
  • Core golfers (regular golfers who played 12-51 times and avid golfers who played more than 52 times) rose from 161,000 to 201,000
  • 18% of the population tried or started golf again in any on or off-course format because of the pandemic (in 2020 or 2021), rising to 29% of those aged 15-24

The new participation data builds on recent SMS research which highlighted that golf rounds played rose for a fourth consecutive year in Great Britain in 2021.

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