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Golf's Year in Search

NGF | Published on 1/9/2023
It’s been said that search engine data are “the most important [data] ever collected on the human psyche.”[i]

Unlike other forms of consumer information gathering, where ‘social desirability bias’ can lead people to exaggerate, underreport or even lie about certain realities, the search box is a safe and impersonal place for us to freely explore and discover.

There’s much we can learn by following the trail of digital breadcrumbs people leave behind. And it’s not only for looking backward. Scientists use online data to anticipate disease outbreaks – a surge in searches for chicken noodle soup or an uptick in negative reviews for scented candles (from altered senses of smell) may be signals for something lurking.

So, as we reflect on the year that was for golf, here’s a look at a few relevant insights we’ve gathered from analyzing Google search data.
  1. In 2022, search popularity for golf reached its highest point in the U.S. in 13 years.[ii] This is a useful measure for our team; going back to 2004, the annual peak in this search term’s popularity has moved in statistical harmony with NGF’s annual estimate of on-course golfers (based on surveys of thousands of Americans throughout the calendar year). The peak registered value in 2022 would suggest ‘green grass’ participation took another meaningful jump this year. Later this month we’ll let you know if our survey data agrees.

  2. After two long years in the shadows of the pandemic, golf finally regained the lead in search share vs. “Covid” in certain U.S. markets in 2022 – the following metros, to be specific: Florence-Myrtle Beach (58% share), Sioux City (55%), Ft. Myers-Naples, FL (54%), Panama City (53%) and Palm Springs (51%). (Don’t be surprised by Sioux City … we estimate its golf participation rate to be 30% above the national average!)
  3. If we wanted to speculate on the trajectory of golf demand in 2023 using only search data, two of the places we might look would be (a) searches that signal interest in taking up golf (like, ‘how to golf’), and (b) searches that imply a deepening relationship with the game (for example, anything related to getting better – lessons, drills, tips).[iii] Querying the former would imply tremendous, continued momentum and no real signs of slowing, while the latter – which could very well be an indicator for the overall appetite of “core,” more-established consumers – suggests some slight-but-possible regression heading into 2023. 
What’s clear from our analysis of online search data is that golf-related demand – virtually every way you look at it – was strong again in 2022 and, in most cases, seems primed to keep going. Let’s continue to stoke that demand in 2023 with fresh and exciting products, services and experiences!
Happy New Year!

David Lorentz
Chief Research Officer
National Golf Foundation
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