Research figures revealed by The R&A and Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS) show golf has enjoyed a significant increase in popularity across the globe since 2016, with more than five and a half million additional golfers taking up the sport.
The total number of golfers has increased to 66.6 million from 61 million over the last five years, surpassing the previous high mark of 61.6 million set in 2012. This includes club members and non-member independent golfers playing nine or 18 holes and users of driving ranges in markets where course availability is limited.
The figure reflects a positive trend in golf in which participation levels are now rising worldwide after a period of decline. This was recently highlighted in the 2021 European Golf Participation Report, with more than 10.6 million golfers playing full-length courses on the continent, an increase from 7.9 million in 2016.
Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said, “Golf is enjoying a real boom in popularity at the moment and we are seeing substantial increases in participation in many parts of the world, particularly in the last two years when the sport could be played safely outdoors during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The new figures are very encouraging but we need to work together as a sport to make the most of this opportunity by retaining those people who have returned to golf or tried it for the first time. We can achieve this by offering a variety of attractive and flexible options that encourage golfers to play more regularly and enjoy its many health and wellbeing benefits with family and friends.”
Regions experiencing the largest rises include Asia (20.9 million to 23.3 million), Europe (7.9 million to 10.6 million, with an marked increase in Great Britain and Ireland from 3.6 million to 5.7 million), and North America (29.9 million and 30.6 million).
Research figures indicate the trend began before Covid-19 and accelerated during the pandemic as the popularity of the sport grew due to golfers being able to socially distance in a safe outdoor setting and boost their physical and mental health.
In Great Britain, the number of adults playing a nine or 18-hole course rose from 2.5 million in 2017 to 2.8 million in 2018, then to 3 million in 2019, surging to 5.2 million in 2020.
The Post Covid Opportunity Research, along with findings from Bayfirth Research, details experiences of golfers during the pandemic, motivation for playing and long-term plans. It found 98 per cent of those interviewed are enjoying playing golf, with 95 per cent seeing themselves playing for many years to come.
The R&A also launched a Covid-19 Support Fund to help golf deal with the impact of the pandemic, with the £7 million funding package largely aimed at national federations and other affiliated bodies in Great Britain and Ireland.