Although golf took a significant hit during the recession, there are signs that more players are venturing back onto the course.
Golf Datatech LLC’s annual data from 2016 showed a slight increase, 0.6 percent, in the number of rounds played from 2015 to 2016. And for the first two months of 2017, year-to-date data shows an increase of 2.6 percent – marking gains in January, 5.2 percent, and February, 0.6 percent. Golf Datatech has collected information on the number of rounds played and produced charts of monthly results since 1999.
For years, golf industry professionals have been saying they’re hearing that players no longer want to spend the time required to play 18 holes, especially in the workday. That’s one reason golf is so popular with retirees.
“To be gone out of the office five hours nowadays is very difficult,” said Ben Bryson, the head professional at Banbury Golf Course, a public course in Eagle. “Fifteen years ago, you could escape for four or five hours without losing much business time.”
In response, Banbury, which was built in 1999, has stepped up the amenities at its full-length driving range, where you can hit a bucket of balls in an hour or less, Bryson said. And he said he’s seeing more nine-hole golf courses constructed.
“We’re kind of lucky because our ninth hole goes right by the clubhouse, so we have a share of players who choose to play nine holes and it takes half the time,” he said.
Membership numbers and entries to state championships are up slightly at the Idaho Golf Association, said Executive Director Genger Fahleson.
The IGA has started a nine-hole members tour around the Treasure Valley to offer a shorter game to members, and has a junior tour. Like Bryson, Fahleson said the most growth she’s seeing in golf is among women and young people.
Fahleson said she thinks the sport will rebound.
“Everything ebbs and flows,” she said. “Golf was going gangbusters in the late ’90s and in the early 2000s. Tennis kind of goes up and down as well, and tennis is real hot right now. Golf is coming back in terms of the numbers of golfers playing.”
Golf Datatech’s data also takes into account temperatures and precipitation. Historically, warmer temperatures have translated into more rounds played, with a 1-degree increase in temperature resulting in a 0.76-percent increase in rounds being played. Precipitation has a larger impact, with increased precipitation causing a decrease in the number of rounds being played. There is a 2.2-percent decrease in the number of rounds played for every inch of rain recorded.
Bryson said he thinks good weather in spring and fall of last year had something to do with an increase in rounds played in Idaho.
“2016 was a pretty good weather year for us,” he said. “The summer wasn’t too hot, the fire season wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and then we had a great fall. We were playing through November last year.”
Golf Datatech also looks at the rounds played for public courses versus private courses. This year is already showing a higher year-to-date yield at private courses than 2016, up 4.5 percent. This is encouraging given the number of rounds played at private clubs last year was down 0.6 percent.
Bryson said golf in Idaho declined steeply during the recession years of 2009, 2010, 2011, and then slowly started coming back in 2012.
“A lot of it is the economy,” he said of the increase in rounds played. “A lot of it is people moving to retire in Idaho from California.”