The numbers are in. According to Golf Datatech and its 2020 National Golf Performance Report, a first-of-its kind annual report analyzing rounds played and retail equipment sales in the U.S., 2020 rounds increased by 13.9 percent and equipment sales increased by 10.1 percent over 2019. The increase in rounds is the largest total year increase since Golf Datatech began collecting and projecting rounds played in 1998, topping the previous largest increase of 5.7 percent in 2012. The 10.1 percent improvement in retail sales surpassed the previous all-time high percentage gain of 10 percent in 2005.
Fueled by a combination of avid players, newcomers and infrequent golfers, 2020 demand for all things golf surged during the second half of the year. The 2020 spending reached near-record levels, as overall golf equipment sales eclipsed $ 2.81 billion, the third-highest annual total, trailing only 2008 ($ 2.91 billion) and 2007 ($ 2.87 billion).
“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,” Golf Datatech partner John Krzynowek said. “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.”
December rounds played soared 37 percent higher than a year ago, led by a strong showing in warm-weather markets, which are the primary driver of golf during the winter months, along with some incremental increases in markets that would typically have minimal activity due to cold weather.
Golf Datatech created the golf industry’s first monthly projections of rounds played by state and region around the country in 1998. The company’s objective was to provide accurate estimates of the health of golf by tracking rounds, the engine that drives almost every other aspect of the business. The company also receives support from the National Golf Foundation (delivering course data) and WeatherTrends (weather data) in an effort to provide the industry with granular detail at the market level.
“We’ve never seen an annual increase remotely close to this, as the previous record increase occurred in 2012, a year when we had nearly perfect weather across much of the United States and rounds played grew by 5.7 percent,” Krzynowek said. “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 U.S. also generated more potential tee times, which the golf community passionately consumed … and continued to ask for more.
“Golf has fared better than many other U.S. industries during the pandemic, as on-course and off-course facilities effectively adapted their operations to accommodate customers, while adhering to CDC, local and national health departments guidelines. Overall, the golf industry can be proud of how it has handled the adversity brought on by the pandemic thus far but must always be aware that until a vaccine is distributed, and broad-based immunity is present, we must all continue to be on guard.”
While rounds played and equipment sales experienced sharp increases in 2020, apparel sales went the other direction and dropped by 14.2 percent. 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 had a detrimental impact on many resorts, which sell a significant amount of logoed golf apparel. Added together, these factors all weighed heavily on the green grass golf apparel business.
Despite the decline in on-course sales, 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 percent, a hopeful sign heading into 2021.
“Combining equipment and apparel sales through the on- and off-course channels, total consumer demand in dollars for golf product was 3.2 percent higher than in 2019,” Krzynowek said. “Given the state of the golf economy in late spring, anything in positive territory had to be considered a big win, and December data continues to impress and suggest the business may still have room to run in early 2021.”