• Rounds played rise 2.2 percent in first 6 months of 2015
  • Industry has lost five million golfers in past decade

Golf is back, maybe.

Rounds played by golfers in the U.S. during the first six months of the year rose 2.2 percent per facility to 10,888 from 10,651 over the same period in 2014. The industry has been in decline, losing about 5 million golfers in the past decade.

The statistic is positive, especially after Jordan Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open, the first golfer to win the first two majors of the season since Tiger Woods in 2002. It also might mean a spell of good weather brought more people to their local courses.

“Those numbers are encouraging,” said Casey Alexander, a golf industry analyst with New York’s Gilford Securities, “but within the larger framework of the business, you could still call them a weather-related rounding error.”

While the amount of monthly rounds played has risen in four of the first six months of 2015, those numbers also coincide with the number of days favorable weather has allowed courses to open for business.

Much of the U.S. endured the polar vortex at the beginning of 2014, affecting the U.S. economy beyond golf -- company profits declined, car sales plummeted, Delta Air Lines Inc. canceled 8,000 flights in January and February alone.

Nicer weather helped prompt more U.S. golfers to get out their clubs during the first half of the year. A total of 30 U.S. states have posted an increase in rounds played, according to PGA PerformanceTrak. The majority of growth has been in the northern and western areas of the country, which also has had smaller precipitation totals in 2015.

Golfers are spending more at the course in 2015, too.

Revenue Increases

Total facility revenue through June rose 2.9 percent to $1.06 million per facility from $1.03 million, including a 4.2 percent increase on food and beverage spending ($250,565 from $240,482 per course) compared with the first six months of 2014.

The sport’s participation declines have stabilized, said Joe Assell, chief executive officer of golf instruction company GolfTEC.
In the past year, GolfTEC has hired about 175 PGA teaching professionals, many of those were among the 500 pros who last year were fired by Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. as in-store sales of golf equipment lagged.

Assell said his company has seen growth in about every measurable category, from the number of improvement centers, lessons given and clients to annual sales volume. GolfTEC coaches give about 25 percent of the private golf lessons throughout the U.S. and the company projects about $80 million in revenue this year.

“It’s really stabilized now and golf is doing fine,” Assell said in an interview. “The declines are gone and I think there was a bit of a bubble there that we’ve worked through. There’s various things that keep me up at night, but the future of golf isn’t one of them.”

Slight Upswing

Still, until more people start taking up the game, Alexander is among those hesitant to declare golf’s recession over.

“The economics and reality are sketchily north of flat,” he said. “I don’t think we’re talking about a trend until we have a full year where the number of players goes up.”
For the past three years, the number of golfers in the U.S. has hovered around 25 million, according to the Florida-based National Golf Foundation. That’s down from a peak of about 30 million in 2005.

“The business is trying everything to improve the number of actual golfers,” Alexander said. “It still hasn’t happened yet.”

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