With the death of Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods's absence from competition, and a series of embarrassing rules controversies at the sport's highest levels, the last year hasn't been completely smooth sailing for the golf industry. But last week, a spot of bright news emerged in the National Golf Foundation's annual report on participation. The report showed that the number of beginner golfers in 2016 reached a record high of 2.5 million (this is defined as people who played on a golf course for the first time). There were other positive signs, too. Thanks to innovative ways to participate in the game that may not include a traditional golf course, like Topgolf, overall participation in the game is up. Off-course participation increased 11%.
This is the first year that the NGF has included off-course participation like Topgolf in its reporting, and says it made the change to better reflect the realities of the sport on the ground. “NGF has been planning the reporting of off-course participation for some time. There are a couple of good reasons for doing so: first, to make our golf participation numbers better reflect overall golf activity and play; and, second, to make our measure more comparable to other sports,” NGF President and CEO Joe Beditz said.
There was good news for fans of the LPGA and diversity in golf, as well. The report found that 33% of junior golfers (age 6-17) are girls, a dramatic increase from the 17% they made up in 1995. Young golfers today are also more diverse than in the past. Twenty seven percent of junior golfers are non-white, up from 6% in 1995.