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Golf Rounds End Year up 14%, Equipment up 10%

Posted on 1/26/2021, by Jack Crittenden

Even though golf courses were all but shut down in late March and April out of initial concerns over the spread of COVID-19, the boom in play that started in the summer continued through the end of the year — resulting in a 13.9% increase over 2019, according to Golf Datatech.

It is the largest annual increase since Golf Datatech began tracking rounds played in 1998, and it is even higher than what the market research company projected in the fall.

“While the global pandemic wreaked havoc on many segments of our economy, the golf industry experienced a significant boost in rounds played and equipment sales,” said John Krzynowek, partner, Golf Datatech. “On the equipment side, sales increased by low single digits in both 2018 and 2019, but the double-digit gains in 2020 can only be attributed to the pandemic and golf being a respite for so many.”

Equipment sales were 10.1% higher than 2019. The previous high for rounds play growth was in 2012 when near perfect weather helped the industry grow by 5.7%.

“While there is no doubt that the pandemic provided a positive jolt of energy to the golf business in 2020, a warmer and drier climate across broad swaths of the US also generated more potential tee times, which the golf community passionately consumed … and continued to ask for more,” Krzynowek said.

Joe Beditz, president and CEO of the National Golf Foundation, previously said 2020 marks the largest increase in rounds in one year since 1997, when Tiger Woods had his breakout year. During the past 20 years, rounds played have moved up and down no more than a few percent each year, making 2020 remarkable, Beditz said.

The growth has been fueled by a combination of avid players, newcomers and infrequent golfers. In 2020, spending reached near record levels, as overall golf equipment sales eclipsed $2.81 billion, the third highest annual total of all-time, trailing behind only 2008 ($2.91 billion) and 2007 ($2.87 billion).

It has never been good news for every segment in the industry, however. Apparel sales dropped by 14.2%. Golf apparel is predominantly sold thru on-course golf shops, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, many pro shops were not fully operational for several months. Additionally, a lack of international travel and lockdowns during the critical spring season in warm weather markets hit resorts hard. Resorts sell a significant percent of logoed golf apparel.

While on-course sales declined, apparel sales at off-course specialty outlets, particularly those with a strong online presence, enjoyed significant growth in 2020. Moreover, the last two months of the year saw total apparel sales up 11%, a hopeful sign heading into 2021.

Private clubs continue to perform well. Private courses are up nearly 19% year-to-date, higher than all other categories.

“To the surprise of many, the market for club memberships and golf community real estate has been encouraging this second half of 2020,” wrote Jason Becker, president of Golf Life Navigators. “Since June, we have seen buyer sentiment shift dramatically with 15 to 30% of buyers (who had originally planned to pause their search of a club) decide to restart their search in November.”

He said golf community real estate sales are also increasing, up 20 to 40% in many Sunbelt markets.

“The market for private club golf is on fire, and we should embrace the demand,” Becker wrote. “However, the door of opportunity could close at any time, just as it opened unexpectedly this summer. Our suggestion: Keep marketing and keep engaging with prospects so those pipe-lines of buyers remain full throughout 2021.”