June 2, 2020

2019 Golf Consumer Franchise: Flattening the Curve

As we ride out the “COVID era” both in the golf industry and our personal lives, I thought I’d have some fun by inverting one of the current buzz phrases, “flatten the curve” in describing the ’19 golf consumer franchise results. With the virus, medical experts are advising us to take actions to “flatten the curve” which refers to the timeseries of infections, hospitalizations and deaths and arresting the upward arc of that curve when graphed. In golf, with the long-term trend of decline in our golfer base, what we’re attempting to do (and having similar success) is flattening the downward arc of participation and looking for a support point upon which to grow once again.

Toward that end, the ’19 consumer survey results (Pellucid’s consistent, historical transformations off the base data provided by the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA)) do suggest that over the past 5 years we’re having success in flattening the curve and it appears that “support” is occurring between 20-21M Players (see basic definitions below). In this issue I’ll outline the ’19 size and shape (and change vs. ’18) of the Players base and what it tell us about the overall health of our consumer franchise:

• Following the new nomenclature I outlined last year (Players, Golfers, Participants), our ’19 count and commentary only covers the Players segment (not individuals who are exclusive practicers, simulator users or golfertainment (TopGolf & clones) visitors). We define a Player as a survey respondent answering having played 1+ rounds of golf during the calendar year

• Players and Participation Rate – Golfers fractionally down (<1%), participation rate also down fractionally but now sub-7% for the first time in the NSGA survey period history (’85 to present)

• Demographics – By gender, women gained fractionally against a slightly higher decline in male Players. By income, there was a marginal decline in the lowest income group. By lifestage, Mid-Career (35-54) was the “sole loser” while Late Career and Seniors (55+) offset most of that loss. Encouragingly, Millennials and Juniors were flat after several years of decline

• Involvement levels – The fractional loss was contained to the Involveds group (10-39 rds/yr) and, encouragingly, the Committeds (40+ rds/yr) gained marginally after three consecutive years of decline

• 2020 projections for the golfer base size – This is a lot easier from the vantage point now of just having to forecast one year; applying the slowing rate of decline, we project that we’ll finish ’20 above 20M (slightly). It’s a long way from Golf 2020’s goal of 50M, the PGA’s Golf 2.0 projection of 40M and the NGF’s 2010 call of 30M but it could’ve been worse from where we were 4 years ago (at an annual rate of decline of ~3%; new tagline for the Golf 2040 initiative, “Keep the Player base above 20M!”)

For crystal clarity, Pellucid’s figures and analyses are also a “latent demand-free zone”; we’ll leave all the “hope and change” metrics to our friends at the NGF and associated industry echo chambers. For our subscribers, read on to get the full story and our always-entertaining take on what the numbers are telling us. For our Executive Summary recipients, you can get the rest of the story one of three ways (all can be previewed and purchased at Pellucid’s website