COVID-19 pandemic sparks surge in golf

Illustration by Greta Burton

When the first wave of the coronavirus reached the United States about two years ago, it took a massive toll on the sports industry, from the professional level to youth leagues. However, one unlikely benefactor of the pandemic has been golf, which has quickly become one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. 

For the past two years, golfers found that playing a weekend round or hitting the driving range on a lunch break was a safe way to gather both socially and professionally during the pandemic. The sport naturally allows social distancing, given the large outdoor spaces that constitute a golf course. It also provides a refreshing escape from the anxiety of work, political strife and the pandemic in a relatively casual, non-competitive environment.

For many, including World Golf Foundation CEO Greg McLaughlin, the pandemic has been a renaissance for the sport, with people having newfound interest in the history of golf, professional tournaments and self-participation. 

“It was one of the few sports that you could do at the height of the pandemic when indoor space was closed,” McLaughlin said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I think the health benefits as well as the mental well-being contributed (to its increased popularity), you could spend four hours of quality time with family and friends in a safe manner.” 

In August 2020, the number of rounds played nationally had increased 20.6% from the same time in 2019, according to Inside Golf. The figure increased further from 2020 into 2021. Participation has also increased across all racial, age, gender and economic demographics. Millions of new golfers hit courses across America for the first time in 2021. Some states even designated golf courses as essential businesses at the beginning of the pandemic due to the benefits such courses had on the physical and mental health of residents.

The growth also extends to golf’s market share of the sports industry. McLaughin stated in the same interview that 2020 was the greatest year for the golf industry in its history. In August alone, consumers purchased $331 million worth of golf equipment, a 32% increase over August 2019. July marked an all-time record with $389 million in equipment sales. 2021 saw similar growth, with billions of dollars in revenue pouring in for both golf courses and golf retailers.  

In Oregon, demand for tee time is unprecedented. Small, public courses like Rose City Golf Club continue to see reservations booked far in advance during the warmer months. Country clubs across the Willamette Valley continue to see similar activity. With the removal of pandemic mandates nationwide, many in the golf industry are eager to see if this newfound participation and high profitability sticks as other indoor recreational activities reopen. Those who are interested in taking up golf should visit one of the many local courses that offer golf lesson discounts for students.

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