The month of March is often hit or miss when it comes to good golf weather. It is often a month of transition. We start to see the warm season grasses such as Bermuda and Zoysia begin to green up so as the grasses transition with rounds of golf played still on the rise many golfers (rookies and veterans) are curious about the growth of the game and impact that golf has on many other things. It is obvious that golf has found a revival during the covid pandemic and that overall, it is very positive for the future of golf but what are the statistics and trends behind all this chatter around the course. Fear not avid golfers because even the golf course superintendents have been covered with questions about the trends and statistics at our clubs and across the industry so this month, we will take a break from the agronomy (OK there will be some agronomy) and walk through some of the numbers behind the game that impact our managing of the green assets and the future of the game. Spoiler alert: these statistics will amaze your golf buddies and just might save the day on trivia night.
I think the best place to start understanding some of the trends and statistics of the golf industry is to look at new golfer play last year. This includes a variety of newcomers to the game of golf and some of the new attractions that have brought more attention to the game and to our clubs at every level. One of the leading sources for rounds played and the health of the game is the National Golf Foundation (NGF). Dr. Joe Beditz, CEO of the NGF shared these statistics for new golf play in 2021:
3.2 million beginners played on a golf course for the very first time.
Women now comprise 25% of golfers.
People of color comprise 21% of golfers, a 20.4% increase over the last five years.
Youth golfers remain stable at 3 million in 2021.
Overall golf participation in 2021 was 37.5 million, see the brake down below for on-course, off-course and combined play.
12.6 million people played on-course only.
12.4 million people played off-course only (TopGolf, indoor swing simulators, standalone ranges, etc.…).
12.5 million people played both on- and off-course.
Let’s let those numbers soak in for a minute. That’s a lot of people (12.4 million) playing off-course only but it’s certainly creating interest in the game. It is also great to see a diversity rise within the game. Speaking as a golf course superintendent I can tell you that people are much more interested in practice than they were even a few years ago. It is essential now for successful clubs to have modern practice facilities and often it is these facilities that provide the tipping point for new members and return rounds. It is even more important that there be a social or high-tech instruction aspect available as well. This is a new and positive trend that once people are exposed to the foundations of the game from off-course experiences that their interest can lead them to on-course experiences and we must make sure our staff and facilities are ready to welcome them to the game and encourage them to stay for a lifetime.
With so many new golfers coming to the game, and our traditional golfers playing even more rounds while both bringing with them high expectations. It has triggered a trend of renovations and upgrades as golf course owners and operators are investing some of the revenues from increased rounds back into their courses. Here is a bit of agronomy by the numbers. I am often asked about the life cycle of key golf course assets and while it is a bit complex in relation to all the factors that impact the life cycle of putting greens and tee boxes it is important for all of the stake holders of a given course to have a basic understanding of the hierarchy of importance and general guide to when assets may need to be renovated or replaced. That said, the United States Golf Association (USGA) Green Section has gathered some great information about the life expectancy of golf course assets and infrastructure. Here are some highpoints of the list.
Golf Course Assets Life Cycle
Putting Greens, 15 – 30 years
Tees, 15 – 20 years
Practice Range Tees, 5 – 10 years
Pump Station, 15 – 20 years
Irrigation System, 10 – 30 years
Bunker Drainage Pipes, 5 – 10 years
Bunker Sand (total sand replacement), 5 – 7 years*
Cart Paths (asphalt), 5 – 10 years **
Cart Paths (concrete), 15 – 30 years **
*Bunker liner replacement differs from sand replacement and ranges from 12 months to 12 years depending on the liner product and installation procedures note also that sand replenishment for lost sand due to play, wind and maintenance should be added as needed
**North Texas soils will reduce this number depending on location and environmental factors
The focus of this article is overall awareness of trends and statistics in the golf industry. Later we will address some of the numbers and costs associated with golf course renovations in a separate article. However, I wanted to mention one of the current trends of note in all industries as a public service reminder. The supply chain is broken and the price increases for fuel, parts and materials is very real not to mention the scarcity of some things resulting in delays of up to six months for things like equipment parts and irrigation pipe and fittings. If you are planning a renovation of any sort at home or on the course the prices are trending up and completion windows are expanding at a record pace, be forewarned.
I wanted to wrap up our walk through the trends and statistics of the golf industry with a focus on Texas Golf. I just finished my term as President of the North Texas Golf Course Superintendent’s Association and golf is alive and well across the great state of Texas. Rounds are up and participation is rising which is great for all of us who love golf and make our living supporting the game. In fact, in a report commissioned by Golf 20/20 for the Texas Alliance for Golf the economic impact in Texas for golf was 6.2 billion dollars annually supporting some 80,000 jobs. Texas has 819 golf courses, 87 standalone ranges and 69 miniature golf facilities. Texas golf also gives back to the community with over 200 million dollars attributed to charitable causes annually. For all of our loyal AVIDGOLFER Readers that expect more agronomic or green tips from us each month these numbers are for you. Texas golf courses represent 2.4% of the turfgrass in Texas but use only 1% of the total diverted water. The total irrigated golf turf acres in Texas are 78,800, generating $28,438 per irrigated acre annually and $11,627 per acre-ft of water used making golf turf one of the best crops grown in Texas. Thank you, avid golfers, for making golf GREAT, I hope you learned something new and that you will share it with your friends and neighbors!