Research led by The R&A, together with Scottish Golf, England Golf, Golf Ireland, and Wales Golf, highlights how the sport continued to prosper thanks to participation initiatives and increased awareness of the mental and physical health benefits that golf provides.
New data shows that 5.6 million on-course adult golfers – the second-highest number since monitoring began over 30 years ago – enjoyed playing on full-length courses (9 or 18 holes) in GB&I last year.
Participation rose by 265,000 to surpass the total of 5.3 million in 2021 and is now only slightly below the record of 5.7 million on-course adult golfers in 2020, when golf enjoyed significant growth during the pandemic due to its ability to be played safely outdoors and boost the health and wellbeing of participants.
The latest data shows that participation in GB&I also sits well above the rates in the years prior to Covid-19, given the 3.7 million on-course adult golfers in 2019. It means there were over 50 per cent more on-course adult golfers in 2022 than pre-pandemic levels.
As national federations also work hard to encourage more women and girls into the sport, 20 per cent of adult golfers on full-length courses in GB&I were female in 2022 compared to 15 per cent in 2019.
Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said, “It is very positive to see the number of on-course adult golfers grow in Great Britain and Ireland last year. The sport remains very popular on full-length courses as large numbers of lapsed or non-golfers who took up the sport during the pandemic continue to enjoy playing.
“The growth has been aided by the important work of golf bodies to drive participation initiatives and increase awareness of the benefits of the sport for physical and mental health, including our pilot health campaign in Wales last year.
“There remains significant interest in golf and while we recognise that there are economic challenges due to cost of living pressures, it is important for everyone involved to do their best to keep existing golfers in the sport.”
In Great Britain, the average rounds played were also six per cent up on 2021 and 2022 was 24 per cent up on pre-Covid-19 in 2019. Rounds played per month for the full 12 months was the highest in 2022 of the last ten years.
Meanwhile, spending by golfers in the United Kingdom grew to £5.1 billion in 2019, the equivalent of £964 per adult golfer, according to an independent report funded by The R&A and published by Sheffield Hallam University’s Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC).
The golf industry’s Gross Value Added (GVA) – measuring its contribution to the UK economy – increased to £2.6 billion, which is a real terms increase of 18 per cent between 2014 and 2019. Golf's benefit to the accommodation and tourism industries (£412 million) and construction and real estate industries (£374 million) was also highlighted in the GVA analysis.
The growth of the sport since 2014 is reflected by a 20 per cent increase in consumer spending on golf in current prices, which is real terms growth of 8 per cent after accounting for inflation. The highest areas of consumer spend were members’ fees (£1.4 billion), golf equipment and clothing (£1 billion), green fees (£526 million) and accommodation (£484 million). Overall, golf was responsible for 10 per cent of the £51 billion spent by consumers on sport in the UK.
The study reports that the UK golf industry employs 63,826 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees in the UK, which represents an 18 per cent growth in real terms since 2014.
Golf clubs employed nearly 20,000 employees (19,914 FTE), with notable golf-related employment found in tourism and accommodation (8,274 FTE), golf equipment retailing and manufacturing (7,591 FTE) and construction (4,994 FTE).
The direct effects of inbound golf tourism to the UK also resulted in £338 million for the economy, which is equivalent to a GVA of £139 million and supporting 3,328 FTE jobs. In 2019, The 148th Open at Royal Portrush was the largest sporting event ever held in Northern Ireland and generated over £100 million in economic benefit for the host region. The tax raised from the UK golf industry in 2019 was £1.3 billion.
Golf is also the first sport in the UK to conduct a study on the social value of participation and to measure and value its wider contribution to the economy based on an updated literature review and using Sport England’s Social Return on Investment model.
The Social Value of Golf in the UK report, also produced by SIRC, states that the social value generated by golf in the UK in 2019 was estimated at £1.04 billion.
This value is driven by participating and volunteering in golf and consists of outcomes relating to mental wellbeing (£584 million), individual and social community development (£204 million), and physical and mental health (£169 million). Participation in golf is also estimated to have prevented some 49,000 cases of physical and mental conditions in the UK.