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Long-term trends indicate optimistic future for golf

The number of golfers is expected to increase significantly by the year 2000, but there must be ample facilities to handle them.

By Thomas B. Doyle

Crystal balls, even with dimples on them, are difficult to use. By looking at who golfers are, how they spend their money and the facilities on which they have to play, we may be able to get a better insight into golfs future.

According to the National Sporting Goods Association's (NSGA's) Sports Participation study, there are approximately 18.5 million golfers in the United States. This number is quite consistent with participation levels reported in other studies. The number of participants in golf has remained stable the past several years, not showing the wide swings seen in some other activities (tennis and racquetball, for example).

Frequent golfers

Every sport has its devotees, and golf is no exception. In the NSGA study, we call these people frequent golfers. They play golf at least 40 days per year. Frequent golfers, although they represent only 22 percent of all golfers, account for 53 percent of all golf days played.

Our data indicates frequent golfers are also responsible for more than half of all spending for golf equipment and apparel.

Age profile

By age group, those 35-54 years of age represent the largest single segment of the golf population (28.6 percent). However, the 55-plus age group represents the largest segment (35.8 percent) among frequent golfers. By sex, 74 percent of all golfers are male. That number rises to 79 percent for frequent golfers only.

The age demographics, especially for frequent golfers, are extremely favorable for the future of golf. If the participation rate for golf remains the same in each age group, the number of golfers would grow to approximately 21 million by the year 2000. If the participation rate were to grow approximately two percent, the number of golfers in the year 2000 would approach 30 million.

Meeting the demand

Does the U.S. have enough golf courses to meet these needs?

The rate of facility growth has been declining since 1965. In 1965, there were 8,323 golf facilities. In 1985, there were 12,346. Although the number of golf courses has increased, the rate of growth has been declining dramatically:

1965 vs. 1960


1970 vs. 1965.


1975 vs. 1970


1980 vs. 1975

+ 5.6%

1985 vs. 1980

+ 2.8%

Should the growth rate for golf facilities remain stable or continue to decline, there simply will not be enough golf courses to handle the projected number of golfers in the year 2000.

Golf seems to be one of those activities that is supply driven. The more golf courses there are, the more golfers you will have.

Index of participation

Using data from the NSGA Sports Participation study, one can develop

Illinois Parks and Recreation 7 March/April 1987

an index of participation for golf on a state-by-state basis. An index of participation simply ranks each state above or below the national average (100). The index of participation for Illinois is 139. For some of our neighboring states, the index is: Michigan, 200; Wisconsin, 160; Iowa, 158, and Indiana, 144.

If one ranks these same five states according to the availability of public golf holes, the rank order remains the same with Michigan at the top and Illinois at the bottom.

Finally, dollars spent on golf equipment may give some indication of citizen interest in golf. Golf club sales have grown from $239.6 million in 1976 to $423.2 million in 1985. Golf sales picked up dramatically in 1982 and have been very strong in each of the succeeding years.


What are some of the implications that can be drawn from this data?

Changes in the age structure in the U.S. population will increase the number of golfers significantly by the year 2000. By 2000, the number of golfers could increase from anywhere between 13 percent and 55 percent, depending on the rate of growth projected for the sport.

The current rate of growth for golf facilities is not likely to be able to handle the projected number of golfers.

Since golf seems to be supply driven, the development of golf courses is likely to satisfy many citizen needs. Golf courses are less likely than many other types of recreational facilities to be unused or under-used.

The land acquisition costs for golf courses can be quite high, especially in metropolitan areas. It is also well known that home sites on golf courses command a pre-

Illinois Parks and Recreation 8 March/April 1987

mium price. Public planning should at least consider cooperative ventures with private home developers in order to meet the golf course needs of its citizenry.

Already public planning takes golf courses into account in providing flood retention areas and open spaces. Given these needs, planners may be able to encourage facility development to meet other important public needs.

The rate of growth in golf participation has not matched that of other activities. It may well be that future golf facility development will take into consideration the increasing American interest in fitness. Future facilities at golf courses need not be limited to pro shops. Citizens may be better served with multi-function facilities that accommodate additional needs.

Possible setbacks

What might hold back the growth of golf? The choice of activities other than golf to fulfill leisure time or an increase in the average age of retirement are the two most obvious factors that could retard growth. Since golf participation growth seems to depend on facility development, the failure to increase the rate at which golf courses are being built will certainly be negative for the sport.


Golf participation by age

Under 18





All Golfers






Frequent Golfers






Golf participation by sex



All Golfers



Frequent Golf



Source: Sports Participation in 1985, copyrighted by the National Sporting Goods Prospect, IL.

Final thoughts

Looking in my dimpled crystal ball, the positives currently seem to outweigh the negatives. Golf has a very positive media image. It appeals to a very significant demographic group among our voting citizenry. Facilities add open space and beauty, especially in more urban settings. Creative mechanisms for acquiring lands for golf courses can be developed.

I am a golfer; I. hope my positive frame of mind is justified.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thomas B. Doyle is the director of information and research for the National Sporting Goods Association.

Deadline nears for Home Town awards

April 15 is the deadline to submit applications for the Sixth Annual Governor's Home Town Awards Program.

The program is designed to recognize voluntary citizen participation in community improvement and economic development efforts which took place during calendar year 1986. Projects started prior to 1986 may be entered, but judges will only examine the portion accomplished last year.

Eligibility criteria

Any park district, city, village or other local governmental unit; community organization or action agency; group of handicapped individuals or any other individual within Illinois is eligible to enter the competition. A project involving more than one community is eligible, and there is no limit on the number of projects a community can submit.

Possible projects include, but are not limited to, parks and playgrounds, nature centers, downtown improvements and jobs creation. All entries will be evaluated by an independent panel of judges according to these criteria:

addressing an important community need,

heavy commitment of volunteer resources,

generating tangible results and

widespread community support.

Preliminary judging will take place in May. Those communities remaining after this first round of judging will be scheduled for site visits the following week.

Prizes and recognition

A recognition road sign and plaque will be presented to the first, second and third place winners in each community population category. Other winning projects will receive recognition certificates. Road signs and plaques will also be presented to the best project in each of the special categories.

A grand prize winner will be selected from the first prize winners of all categories. That winner will receive the traveling silver Governor's Cup at the awards banquet in June.

Applications and information

An application guidebook must be used for each entry. These guidebook applications are available from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, Office of Local Government Management Services, 620 E. Adams St., Fifth Floor, Springfield, IL 62701. Phone (800) 562-4688.

Illinois Parks and Recreation 9 March/April 1987

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