Q1 Recap: Rounds Played, Golf Equipment and Apparel Sales

Executive Summary

The first quarter of 2023 is in the books and the golf economy remains strong, with Rounds Played roughly level (-0.3%) and total sales of equipment and apparel about the same (-1.0%).

Despite serious macro headwinds due to uncertainty in the economy during the first quarter of ’23, the golf market hasn’t retreated substantially.  Individual product categories did better or worse than the whole, but, thus far, golf remains in a good place – slightly below peak levels, with participation and spending well above pre-pandemic levels.

Summary Table

Q1 2023 Equipment & Apparel Sales
% Change
Rounds Played-0.3%
Consumables (Balls/Gloves)+8.9%
Semi Durables (Bags/Shoes)-8.6%
Clubs/Distance Devices-9.1%
Total Equipment-5.6%
Men’s Apparel+15.4%
Women’s Apparel-1.4%
Total Apparel+12.0%
Total Equipment/Apparel-1.0%

Rounds Played

Rounds Played is the engine that drives every phase of the golf business. Without rounds, there is no need to buy balls, clubs, bags, apparel, or any other golf related product.  However, too often, Rounds Played numbers are overlooked when trying to understand the overall health of the industry.  Golf Datatech creates the Rounds Played Report monthly, with help from the National Golf Foundation. Golf course owners and operators around the country confidentially share their data, which feeds into our proprietary model, projecting sales by Region, State, and even local markets when possible.

After getting off to a positive start in January and February, bad weather caught up with total US rounds in March. However YTD rounds were relatively unchanged from 2022 levels. Great weather in most of the Southeast US, combined with a mild winter in the northern tier, helped a large section of the country into positive territory for Q1. This was offset by a very challenging three months on the West Coast, where atmospheric rivers brought record rains and cool temps.

Given that less than half the country’s golf courses are open during the first quarter, poor weather that hits “in season markets” can have a substantial negative effect on rounds played, as it did this year.  In total, the first quarter typically represents less than 15% of total year rounds, so it’s not an absolute guarantee that the year will move in one direction or another.

Equipment Sales

Coming off record level sales in 2021, overall equipment sales started to dip in mid ’22, continuing to decrease more significantly in units than in dollars.  Average Selling Prices have been climbing across the board for much of the past two years. However they are now starting to top off in some categories, as golfers push back on the significantly higher prices.

Consumables:  Combined balls/glove sales were up significantly thru the end of the first quarter of ’22 – likely to be a direct result of Q1 ’23 promotional activity on golf balls.  For several years before the pandemic, the large ball brands ran early season “fill the bag” promotions, frequently featuring special deals such as buy 3 dozen get one dozen free”.  Those promos were put on hold during 2020-2022: First as the pandemic shut down the world in ’20, then in ‘21/’22 when there were not enough golf balls available to fulfil the deals. 

In Q1 this year, most of the large brands were back into promoting their products, so the calendarization of sales will shift again and the first quarter will take on an increased importance as a percentage of the full year sales.  Because of this shift in ball timing, expectations are for sales to slow in the second quarter compared to Q2 in ’22.

Semi-Durables:  While sales of golf bags and shoes were down by 8.6% in the first quarter of ’23, both products had the third largest Q1 in history, trailing only of ’22 and ’21.  Put in historical context, golf bag sales remain very healthy, although they are now being compared to two recent huge Q1’s.

Durables – Golf-Clubs:  Golf club sales dipped in the first quarter of 2023, with most major product categories lower, except for wedges, which had moderate growth.  Big ticket items, such as iron sets and drivers felt the pinch from massive comparisons over the past two years (similar to Semi-Durables), as well as headwinds from significantly higher Average Selling Prices, and macro-economic issues such as high inflation and an uncertain economic future.  While wedges benefitted from a significant increase in prices along with new product introductions. 

Durables – Distance Devices:  Distance Devices were down double digits for the first quarter, as both units and prices declined. 

Golf Apparel Sales

Total Golf Apparel Sales continued to soar higher thru the first three months of ‘23, with first quarter sales improving by 12% compared to 2022 levels.  Men’s apparel, outerwear and headwear were all up mid to high teens, while Women’s apparel was slightly below prior results.

When Tops and Outerwear show significant improvements as they did in ‘23, it’s usually the result of inclement or less than ideal weather conditions creating the need for new purchases, and the rough weather in the west certainly fit that description to start this year. 

Men’s Apparel:  Shirts, which are the largest single category in all of apparel, were up over 15% as both units and Average Selling Prices rose significantly.  At the same time, Men’s Tops (which include vests, quarter zips, etc.) had a big first quarter, up over 30%, while sales of men’s bottoms were slightly lower than prior year,

Women’s Apparel:  After having a record year in 2022, overall sales of women’s apparel was a little soft in Q1 of ’23.  Even though women’s tops were up over 20%, both shirts and bottoms fell, leaving the category in the red thru three months. 

Outerwear:  Sales of Outerwear (which is considered gender neutral for Golf Datatech Retail Data) was up 19% in Q1, hitting an all-time high in ’23, with both units and Average Selling Prices moving higher.

Headwear:  Headwear sales tracking is a relatively new category for Golf Datatech, which started following the category in 2021.  Sales for the first quarter of ’22 were up 14% from ’22.  Even though Headwear tracking is relatively new, it represents the second largest product category in apparel behind only men’s shirts. 

Total Equipment & Apparel

Early in ’22, many golf retailers continued to struggle with product availability for key items, particularly in golf apparel. In equipment, supply chain issues had significantly lessened in several categories, however the flow of merchandise had yet to reach pre-pandemic levels, though it would soon. 

By the time 2023 began, products were flowing more freely, and supply chain constraints were in the rearview mirror. Inventories were also building both in the retail channel and in the warehouses of the manufacturers. 

When the dust settled on total sales for the first quarter of ’23, total sales of equipment plus apparel was lower by 1%, with equipment down and apparel up.  High ticket hard goods were facing the most headwinds, while outerwear, tops and headwear flew off the shelves.