Golf travel avoids the harsh, aims for the bright future

Golf travel avoids the harsh, aims for the bright future

Golfers are hitting the links around the world in record numbers

While much of the tourism sector has spent the past three years recovering from the damage wrought by the pandemic, the venerable sport of golf has had a different fate.

After initially being rocked in 2020 by the impact of the COVID-19 virus, golf has enjoyed an impressive surge in the second half of 2020. This growth has continued in 2021 as the National Golf Foundation reports that more rounds of golf are played in ballparks across the country than at any time in history. And that number is expected to grow in 2023.

In 2021, according to the NGF, 25.1 million Americans played a golf course, a net increase of about 300,000 golfers from 2020. That number swells to 37.5 million Americans in 2021 when driving ranges are used off the course, simulators or entertainment venues like Topgolf added to the mix.

These statistics are even more encouraging when you consider the number of women and newcomers hitting the links. In 2021, of the 25.1 million who played golf on a course, more than 6 million were women, a number that has increased significantly over the past five years. Similarly, in 2021, a record 3.2 million played golf for the first time. That comes on the heels of more than 3 million making their golf debut in 2020. Both numbers surpassed the previous peak of 2.4 million new golfers in 2000.

Good news for travel planners

Golf’s growing popularity is promising news for travel planners looking to rebound from a disastrous 2020 and 2021. Golf travel, already a whopping $20 billion in business in the United States, looks poised to improve that number in the coming years .

According to a recent survey of “core golfers” by the NGF, almost 80 percent said they plan to take a special golf trip this year. This figure is significant an increase from a year ago, when about 66 percent of participants (nearly 13 million Americans who play at least eight rounds of golf a year) said they were planning a golf trip. Along those lines, an NGF survey of 75 U.S. resort facilities shows advance bookings for golf trips are up 12 percent year-over-year and nearly 20 percent over pre-pandemic days.

Pebble Beach Golf Course is one of the most popular courses in the world.  Credit: Stephen L. Shepherd

Pebble Beach Golf Course is one of the most popular courses in the world. Credit: Stephen L. Shepherd

Even sky-high gas prices, which this year reached a national average of $4,009 a gallon, haven’t deterred golfers. Almost 60 percent of golf trips involve golfers hitting the road by car, but drive-in destinations such as Big Cedar Lodge in the Missouri Ozarks report that advance bookings for 2022 are similar to 2021.

It seems that nothing can stop golfers from their desired course. And considering there are more than 38,000 courses worldwide in 209 different countries (85 percent of the world), that’s a healthy number of prospective travelers.

Domestic Golf Destinations

Of those 38,000 courses, more than 16,000 can be found in the United States, with the best states for golf being California, Florida, and Oregon. These states are home to the most Top 100-ranked courses in the country, with California having a solid top 10 ranked courses.

And while the rankings vary depending on where you look, it’s generally accepted that Pebble Beach in California, Pacific Dunes in Oregon and TPC Sawgrass in Florida are among the best courses in the world. Best of all, these legendary courses are open to the public.

Golf trips abroad are booming

A report titled “Global Golf Tourism Market Report 2022 – Market Size, Trends and Global Forecast 2022-2026” published by The Business Research Company says that the golf tourism market is expected to grow from $4.44 billion in 2021 to $4.8 billion in 2022. The same market is expected to grow to $5.8 billion in 2026.

Further boosting the sport is the fact that more than 670 golf courses are under construction or in the planning stages. Asia, Europe and North America account for almost 80 percent of all golf courses built or planned. The expansion of golf courses in these regions will give a boost to the golf tourism market in these regions, leading to healthy growth in the global golf tourism market.

One such example of a healthy golf market is the United Kingdom, where some of the UK top golf spots are selling out both this year and 2023 Gordon Dalglish, who runs a tour operator in the US Perigolf, told CNBC that he’s never seen such demand from Americans wanting to play prime courses in Britain, such as the Old Course in St. Andrews in Scotland. In fact, PerryGolf has nearly sold out 2,023 spots to play the Old Course, which is believed to be the oldest and most iconic golf course in the world.

In 2021, of the 25.1 million who played golf on a course, more than 6 million were women, a number that has increased significantly over the past five years.  Credit: Photo by Stefan Waldvogel via Pixabay.

In 2021, of the 25.1 million who played golf on a course, more than 6 million were women, a number that has increased significantly over the past five years. Credit: Photo by Stefan Waldvogel via Pixabay.

Golf brings dollars to tourism

Although golf may be the main reason tourists visit Scotland and other golfing cities and countries, it is only part of these excursions. This is of great benefit to the cities and countries where these golf courses are located.

Golf tourism represents the largest market for sports travel and is considered one of the best ways to boost tourism. This is largely due to the fact that golf tourists often have higher average expenditures than other tourists, with golf travelers spending an average of 2.5 times more than leisure tourists. Only 25 percent of that is reportedly spent on golf.

The National Golf Foundation also found that while the average length of a local visitor’s trip is 3.6 days, a golfer stays an average of 4.6 days. That number is even more pronounced among overseas golf tourists, who stay a minimum of seven nights, according to a survey conducted by Golf Travel Consulting.

In other words, golf travel is big business. And it’s getting bigger every day.

By Jason Paha

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