This article was originally written in January 2021 by SMS Director Richard Payne for The PGA Professional Magazine.
If you want one word to sum up golf in 2020, try ‘resilience’. After course closures in April and May because of Coronavirus, the global golf industry could have been excused for feeling Eeyoreish at the start of the summer. Instead, golf went into overdrive when courses reopened. By the end of Q3, rounds played across Great Britain had recovered to the extent that they were up 7% year-to-date against 2019. In the USA, a similar story unfolded.
Looking to the immediate future, strict ongoing lockdowns are, sadly, likely to mean continued restrictions. Even when courses reopen, border closures and the need for potentially cost-prohibitive tests and quarantines will continue to afflict golf tourism. Equipment manufacturers will hope that there is some good news by the time the Masters, and a key spring selling season, comes around.
In the medium and long term, there is scope for optimism. The working from home genie has been let out and plenty will take advantage of flexible hours or reduced commutes to spend time on their passions. At the same time, lockdown has provoked reflection on what is important. For many people that means time in the fresh air, exercising and socialising with friends and family of different genders and generations. What better game could there be than golf to meet those requirements?
As life reopens, there is an extraordinary opportunity to introduce new golfers to the game. Domestic tourism could expand in the medium term, as lockdowns ease but foreign travel logistics remain complicated. At the top of the game, the strategic alliance between the PGA Tour and European Tour promises new opportunities for media coverage and content generation, while back-to-back Ryder and Solheim Cups in the Autumn promise a potentially expanded shoulder to the golf season.
To capitalise, golf businesses will have to be canny. Throughout 2021 and into 2022 there will be a trade-off to be made between the temptation to increase green fee pricing based on high demand and erecting barriers to entry. Facilities, brands and governing bodies will have to be creative to encourage ongoing play with friends and family. It is good news in that sense that in Great Britain, pre-pandemic, the number of female players in 2020 reached 452,000, the highest since 2011.
The overarching positive for golf in 2021 is that, according to consumer insights from Sports Marketing Surveys 76% of golfers feel extremely safe playing the game.
There are valid arguments that the severity of the current crisis makes case-by-case exemptions for individual sports problematic, but equally, sport can and must be part of the short, medium and long-term solution. It is too important to public mental and physical health not to be. And as governments across the world weigh up the evidence, the lesson from 2020 is that golf can expect to rebound fast as soon as the pins go back in.
Sports Marketing Surveys is the leading provider of global golf insights, helping businesses understand the players, fans, trade and stakeholders who matter. For more information, please contact Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org.