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R&A reveal staggering numbers behind golf’s pandemic boom

A survey carried out by Great Britain and Ireland's leading governing bodies have shown the impact Covid had on our game. Steve Carroll reports
 

We all know golf’s pandemic surge meant our courses were busier – now the huge scale of it has been revealed by the R&A.

A staggering 2.3 million extra golfers got on course in Great Britain & Ireland last year, with the average age of participants decreasing by five years.

More women are playing golf and the sport played a huge role in helping people through the impact of lockdown and Covid-19.

The research was led by the governing body, together with England Golf, Golf Ireland, Scottish Golf and Wales Golf, and two reports were produced by Sports Marketing Surveys.

Their key findings, for Great Britain, included:

  • Total adult golfers on a full-length course (nine or 18 hole) increased significantly by 2.1 million players to 5.2 million – the highest figure recorded this century
  • Of these golfers, 36% identified as returning or new golfers – with 16% of players starting or trying golf for the first time because of the pandemic
  • The average age of golfers fell by five years to 41, with the majority of new golfers aged under 55
  • 25% of female golfers were new to the sport – and tried it for the first time because of the pandemic
  • Driving range use increased from 2.3 million to 4.3 million players
  • Golfers who only used par-3 courses more than doubled, and those who only played on pitch and putt courses more than tripled  

Ireland saw similar success with the number of on course golfers on a full length course more than doubling from 219,000 to 540,000, and a third of adult golfers trying the sport for the first time being under 25.

Phil Anderton, the R&A’s chief development officer, said: “We have seen a real surge in the number of golfers in Great Britain and Ireland playing the sport and this is reflected by the high demand for tee times and clubs reporting a strong interest in membership last year. 

“Golf has shown that it can provide significant health benefits and this has been important for many golfers during these very challenging times. It is vital that golf seizes the opportunity to maintain this heightened interest by offering new and returning golfers compelling reasons to stay within the sport and enjoy it with friends and family.”

Turning to the effects of Covid and lockdown on golfers, the reports revealed that playing golf had resulted in a significantly positive impact on their mental and physical health.

Among avid and regular golfers, nearly a third said they had experienced some negative impact on their feelings of loneliness or isolation as a result of the pandemic. Of those, 79 per cent said playing golf had a positive impact.

For lapsed and returning golfers, getting the clubs back out had a marked effect. Of the 44 per cent who said they’d experienced a negative impact on their mental health because of Covid, 92 per cent said playing golf had a positive impact.

Anderton added: “The mental and physical health benefits of golf have helped boost participation in 2020 and that is hugely encouraging given the sport offers a wonderful form of exercise out in the fresh air for all ages and abilities.

“With more female players also coming into the sport, it presents an opportunity for golf clubs to harness interest from this key demographic and to engage in our #FOREeveryone campaign.

“The campaign encourages clubs to consider how they can attract more women and girls into the sport and challenge unhelpful stereotypes to demonstrate that it is an enjoyable pastime and career for people of all ages and backgrounds.”

For more on the reports, visit the R&A website.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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