New data shared by The R&A and Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS) has shown that golf has enjoyed a significant increase in global popularity since 2016, with over five-and-a-half million additional golfers taking up the sport.
The total number of golfers around the world has increased from 61 million to 66.6 million in a five-year growth period, surpassing the previous high mark of 61.6 million set in 2012.
The measure includes club members and non-member independent golfers playing nine or 18 holes and users of driving ranges in markets where course availability is limited.
The new figure reflects a positive trend in golf in which participation levels are now rising worldwide after a period of decline.
This was recently highlighted in the 2021 European Golf Participation Report, which highlighted that over 10.6 million golfers now enjoy playing full-length courses on the continent – a healthy increase from the 7.9 million last monitored in 2016.
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Phil Anderton, the Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said: “Golf is enjoying a real boom in popularity at the moment and we are seeing substantial increases in participation in many parts of the world, particularly in the last two years when the sport could be played safely outdoors during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The new figures are very encouraging but we need to work together as a sport to make the most of this opportunity by retaining those people who have returned to golf or tried it for the first time.
“We can achieve this by offering a variety of attractive and flexible options that encourage golfers to play more regularly and enjoy its many health and wellbeing benefits with family and friends.”
SMS collected participation data reported by national federations in different regions around the world, using nationally representative studies and expert estimates to calculate the global number of total golfers.
Regions experiencing the largest rises include Asia (20.9 million to 23.3 million); Europe (7.9 million to 10.6 million, driven largely by Great Britain and Ireland going from 3.6 million to 5.7 million); and North America (29.9 million to 30.6 million).
The research figures indicate the growth trend began before Covid-19 and then accelerated during the pandemic as the popularity of golf grew due to golfers being able to socially distance in a safe outdoor setting and stay active to boost their physical and mental health.
In Great Britain, the number of adults playing a nine or 18-hole course began to gradually increase before the onset of Covid-19, rising from 2.5 million in 2017 to 2.8 million in 2018, then to 3 million in 2019, before surging to 5.2 million in 2020.