We’ve been wondering when golf’s post Covid participation boom might finally start to stall. But new figures from BRS Golf – revealed in the latest GCMA Insights podcast – and The R&A have revealed a pretty buoyant picture for the first half of 2023
Crippling energy bills. Rising interest rates and high inflation – the cost-of-living crisis was tipped to end golf’s Covid participation boom. But new figures suggest it’s still showing no signs of slowing up.
Intriguing numbers released by BRS Golf reveal more ‘member rounds’ were played in the first half of this year than in the entirety of 2019.
The company, which provides tee time and booking services for some 1,500 clubs in the UK and Ireland, reported 13.6 million member rounds in the first half of 2023 – 6.7 million ahead of the comparable year before the pandemic.
In a GCMA Insights edition of the Golf Club Talk UK podcast, BRS Golf’s Kevin Murray said: “To put it into slightly more context, we had more member rounds played in the first half of this year than we had in the whole of 2019.”
England provide nearly half of the total with 6.6 million rounds, with Ireland at 2.9 million, Scotland at 2.3 million, Northern Ireland at 1 million and Wales close to 750,000.
Murray also revealed that membership numbers across BRS clubs had picked up having fallen in the first quarter of the year.
“Registered member numbers will be a reasonable indicator of the health of golf clubs and member play and at the end of quarter one, we reported that our registered members had dropped 6,000 from the end of December,” Murray added.
“Keeping the same sample set of golf clubs, April was still early in terms of member subs – it was a continually moving picture – and we thought June and July would be a better barometer.
“Our registered member numbers have picked up. We’re now only 4,000 members back. We have picked up pace as people either renewed or new members joined, came off waiting lists, or whatever it might be.
“It’s a pretty healthy picture. It looks clubs have weathered – for this year anyway – a potential storm and it goes hand in hand with the member rounds.”
There are 660,000 golfers who are members at clubs serviced by BRS Golf. Looking at visitors, Golf Now partners spent just shy of £8 million in course revenue over the first six months of the year.
“Q2 saw three consecutive months with at least a million in course revenue and it was probably closer to 1.5 for most of those months. They were actually the biggest months since post lockdown booms during Covid,” Murray added.
“So we’re starting to see things that we didn’t expect to see – in terms of the volume of bookings, the volume of repeat bookings, and the breakdown of bookings we are seeing.
“As a business, we thought bookings would go in one direction and they’ve gone in the other over the first six months. We’ve had 216,000 bookings – 17 per cent up year over year – and that equated to 479,000 actual rounds played – which was also 17 per cent up.
“We’ve had 103,000 unique bookers, which is 12 per cent up on the same period last year, and 34,000 new bookers, which is seven per cent up.
“What we’ve seen from our new bookers is that they are booking considerably more golf. The 34,000 new bookers we’ve had have made 69,000 total bookings, which is 39 per cent up.”
Murray said new bookers were averaging 2.1 bookings per booker compared to 1.5 last year. “A lot of you might think there’s not that much difference between 1.5 and 2.1 but when you roll it over 30,000 people it becomes a really big number.”
The positive outlook was also backed up by freshly released data from The R&A, who have announced new global participation figures that show an additional ten million adult golfers are playing the sport worldwide since 2016.
Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said, “Golf’s popularity has surged in recent years, which is reflected in a significant increase in the number of people playing the sport in both traditional on-course and alternative formats.
“It is significant that ten million more golfers are playing on the course since 2016, but it is also important that millions of others are engaged in golf through many other alternative formats, such as driving ranges, which are so vital to the growth of the sport.
“It also underlines why effective and impactful participation programmes are important for encouraging more people into the sport and retaining them in greater numbers. We are working closely with our affiliated national federations and stakeholders within golf to sustain this momentum. We thank them for their efforts as we aim to ensure that golf is thriving for years to come.”