Golf Datatech reported today that rounds were up 20% in July, outpacing June’s 14% gain over last year. This two-month rebound has allowed us to climb from a 16% YTD deficit on April 30 to now a 3% lead over 2019. Seems almost inconceivable given the loss of 20 million spring rounds from course shutdowns and virus-related anxieties. And the good news is likely to keep coming. Several golf course management companies have told us that August has been almost as good.
We did a little digging for perspective. Only three times in at least the past 151 months has the industry seen a monthly rounds increase of 20% or more. All three were during a heatwave in late 2011/early 2012, yielding surges in play at courses in the north that were typically closed and at a time of year when percentage increases can be misleading. To have a jump this significant during a high-volume summer month is unprecedented and reflects approximately 10 million more July rounds versus a year ago.
Our latest year-end forecast has us up 2% to 6% year-over-year. Consider this – we haven’t seen more than a 5% Y.O.Y. increase since 2012 (during that surreal winter heatwave).
Beneath the surface of this macro-level data, we’ve observed in our ongoing national participation study that 35- to 49-year-old golfers have been especially engaged, with 1/4 of this cohort reporting an increase in their May-July rounds versus what they’d consider typical (by comparison, 16% of other golfers indicated the same). And a similar proportion of 35-49 golfers also anticipate a higher volume in their rest-of-year play versus typical. In fact, they are the only age cohort with more golfers expecting an increase vs. decrease this fall.
A word of caution, though, about these ultra-engaged 35-49’s … most of them (more than 2 out of 3) credit their increased play, at least in part, to the lack of recreational alternatives. This underscores the importance of identifying and engaging customers before the rest of the leisure world comes back online.
All in all, there are mostly positive indicators for a continued swell in golf demand. We’ve still got five major championships left (3 for the women, 2 for the men), plus the lack of other safe and healthy activities, favorable weather in the forecast, and remote work and school for many parts of the country – all creating that additional space for golfers (and prospects) to hit the links.
Right now it’s like we’re standing on the 13th tee with a four-hole lead and six to play, and we just striped a drive down the middle. It would take some serious setbacks – like a spell of bad weather in golf-rich areas or a virus/election-induced economic hiccup – for us to lose this match. The real question now may be margin of victory.
We’ll be back in a fortnight.
Joseph F Beditz, Ph.D.
President and Chief Executive Officer
National Golf Foundation
501 N Hwy A1A, Jupiter FL 33477