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A new study has found that golf in Great Britain & Ireland enjoyed a stunning participation increase last year.

Research led by The R&A, together with England Golf, Golf Ireland, Scottish Golf and Wales Golf, has demonstrated how the sport thrived in 2020 despite the significant challenges of Covid-19.

Two new participation reports, produced by Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS), show that a significant number of players enjoyed golf on full-length courses as well as alternative forms of the sport, including the use of driving ranges, Par-3 golf and pitch and putt. There was also an increase in the number of female golfers and a reduction in the average age of participants.

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Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, 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.”

Key findings from the 2020 Great Britain Golf Participation Report:

• Total adult golfers on a full-length course (9 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.

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• 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.

It’s a similar picture in Ireland where total adult golfers on a full-length course increased by 219,000 to 540,000. Just under a fifth (18%) returned to golf or started or tried golf for the first time because of the pandemic, whilst a third of adult golfers who tried golf for the first time were under the age of 25.

Following the easing of restrictions, The R&A identified the need to further understand this demand and how different types of golfers were engaging with the sport.

The Post Covid Opportunity Research carried out by SMS in Great Britain and Ireland, along with findings from Bayfirth Research, details experiences of golfers during the pandemic, their motivations for playing and their long-term plans for the future.

Among new golfers, 98% of those interviewed identified they are enjoying playing golf and 95% see themselves playing golf for many years to come.

The impact of Covid-19 restrictions on mental and physical health and loneliness has been considerable with the research showing how golf has helped in these areas.

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Key findings include:

• Among avid/regular golfers, 31% identified they had experienced some negative impact on their feelings of loneliness/isolation as a result of the pandemic. Of these, 79% identified playing golf had a positive impact.
• Among lapsed/returning golfers, 44% identified that they had experienced some negative impact on their mental health as a result of the pandemic. Of these, 92% identified playing golf had a positive impact.

• Among occasional/infrequent golfers, 34% identified they had experienced some negative impact on their physical health as a result of the pandemic. Of these, 70% identified playing golf had a positive impact.

The research also outlined recommendations that clubs can take to retain new players, including feeling welcome and valued; a friendly culture and relaxed atmosphere; participation options based on ability and experience; good customer service; having an efficient booking system; and the quality and maintenance of the course.

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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.”

author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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