ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Something strange has happened in golf, perhaps you’ve seen it, too.
It’s jogging pants and flat-brimmed hats. It’s modern-fitted golf shirts showing off bods rather than just dad bods.
It’s official, the young people are here.
“If you think about where the game is right now, it’s never been in better shape,” PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh said.
And he wasn’t talking about golf shirts. During the pandemic, when golf suddenly became the only thing you were allowed to do outside the house without a dog on a leash, it made sense to see new players taking up the sport. What has become a pleasant surprise to the industry is that many of them never left.
“It continues to grow. We thought we’d see a downturn post-COVID,” Waugh said this week at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y. “And the way that it’s growing is really terrific, as well, which is every cohort, whether that’s juniors, first-timers, avids, are growing, and the two fastest growing cohorts are women are girls.”
The most startling figure Waugh brought up was that 48% of American golfers are now under 35 years old.
“That’s the most exciting stat that I’ve seen in a long time about the growth of the game. … I would reckon to say that it was 75% over 50 years old not so long ago,” he said. “I think for the first time we can really think that golf is cool, as opposed to just interesting, if you will.”
There’s a good chance that usage of “reckon to say” is down on golf courses these days. In his early-60s, the old-school cool Waugh, with wavy silver-hair and loafers with no socks, is what golfers were used to seeing walking down fairways, but these days you are just as likely to see athletic-wear, portable speakers and the occasional drone flying overhead.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that golf seems to be a great fit for the social media era, with sunshine, stunning locales and big smiles drawing thumbs to the like and subscribe buttons.
Here in Canada, participation continues to rise as well with 9.3 million scores posted for handicap purposes in 2022, a 19% increase since 2020. There are now 319,000 Golf Canada members, an 18% increase over 2019.
The PGA of America has started tracking off-course golfers as well, as the industry attempts to understand and quantify the success of golf entertainment facilities such as Topgolf, Popstroke and indoor simulators. Waugh says the total number of golfers in America, combining on-course and off-course participants has reached 41 million players. And he says there is even more reason to be excited for the future.
“The new juniors are almost 40% girls that are playing, which is really exciting, and it’s almost 30% kids of colour. So it’s growing not only in an absolute way, but it’s growing in all the interesting ways we hoped it would.”
So it might be time to throw out those khakis and hit the gym.
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