‘Covid’s impact has been as big as Tiger Woods’

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If you don’t like the modern way of getting your tee time, look away now! Experts say golf’s pandemic boom has made it ‘imperative’ to the game

Covid-19s impact on golf has been so huge it’s been compared to Tiger Woods’ epoch-defining arrival to the sport a quarter of a century ago.

In a webinar held by the Golf Club Managers’ Association, BRS golf data analyst Kevin Murray said the pandemic has brought changes to the game over the last two years not seen since Tigermania transformed both perception and participation in the wake of his first Masters triumph 25 years ago.

Outlining the impact of the pandemic on golf in the UK and Ireland, which has seen the number of registered members on BRS software rise by nearly 30 per cent between 2019 and 2021, Murray said: “The world changed. Golf changed. In my opinion, the impact of Covid can be likened to the Tiger impact in the late 90s and early noughties.

“DJ (Dustin Johnson) said, when Tiger was being inducted into Hall of Fame, that Tiger made golf cool. With Covid being an airborne disease, being out in the fresh air was one way to combat it. We could stay together while keeping apart effectively on the golf course.

“That, combined with lockdown, sport off and bars closed, meant golf became the go to sport. Thousands flocked back to golf. More people took it up who had never played before and those who played, played a little more.”

BRS Golf provide tee sheet facilities for more than 1,500 golf clubs – effectively half of all those in the UK and Ireland – and, against a period of stagnant decline before 2020, Murray revealed some astonishing figures which revealed the mammoth scale of golf’s growth over the last 24 months.

He admitted that the numbers were so big, particularly surrounding increases in member rounds played, the BRS Golf team had check them again to make sure they weren’t double counting.

Some of the highlights included:

The number of members registered with a BRS Golf club rose from 554,000 at the end of 2019 to 705,000 in 2021 – an increase of 27 per cent

There were 23 million member rounds played in 2021, compared with 13.5 million in 2019 – a 70 per cent increase. Given there was an extensive lockdown which shut courses in England, Wales and Ireland in the early part of last year, that total averaged out to an extra million rounds for every month golf was open

The average number of rounds played per member jumped from between 22 and 24 between 2017 and 2019 to just shy of 35 in 2020 and 33 in 2021 – a 43 per cent increase year on year 2019 to 2020

The number of registered female members on the BRS Golf platform rose from 140,000 in 2018 to 210,000 last year

There was a considerable increase in the number of younger people playing golf, particularly in the 18-34 and 18-24 age range, with it now representing almost 30 per cent of BRS Golf’s user base

Member rounds played continue to be on pace in 2022, with almost 1.9 million played in January and 1.3 million in February – far outweighing winter figures before the pandemic struck.

On the younger age shift, Murray said: “It’s both the largest and fastest growing sector we have seen in terms of age demographic.

“The area that we’ve probably seen the biggest drop in has been the 55-64 and 65+ age range. I think we can probably put some of that down to golfers having to shield but, in terms of the membership base we’re currently seeing, we’re seeing a real growth in that 18-34 area.

“That combined with females – it looks like the faces of our golf clubs are just starting to change ever so slightly.”

He also outlined the details of a Covid-19 impact survey BRS Golf had asked clubs to take. Of those that replied, 80 per cent reported membership revenue increases, 11 per cent had introduced a waiting list, 67 per cent now placed a greater emphasis on technology, and 76 per cent anticipated that contactless transactions would remain in place.

Murray told viewers: “Online booking has definitely changed. There were maybe a lot of golf clubs that either didn’t have a tee sheet, or had a tee sheet and maybe didn’t use it as well as they could.”

He continued: “Now you book your 10am tee time on a Sunday morning. You turn up at 10am and you play at 10am. You don’t turn up at 10am and there’s eight men already standing on the tee box waiting to get out – and you don’t know when you are going to get out.

“You get your tee time, you play your tee time. I think we all realised that golf is a sport that’s quite time consuming and everybody’s lives are busy. Knowing when you’re going to play – and that is when you are going to play – has become something that’s quite imperative in this modern world.”

Looking at the early numbers for 2022, which show there has been no drop off yet in the demand for golf, Murray concluded: “So far, so good. 2022 has kicked off in a positive manner.”

This article originally appeared on the Golf Club Managers’ Association website.

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