A new study by BRS and Golf Now, writes Ian Simpson of Savills, has taken a look at the effect of the pandemic on roundage and the figures indicate that the upsurge in visitor rounds has been even stronger than the anecdotal evidence has suggested.
2021 visitor rounds were up 107% on 2019 figures and still slightly below, some 7% lower, than the first lockdown roundage. And this growth has been across the gender board with women visitor rounds up 123% – not only that but women in 2021 comprised 20% of all players, a far cry from what most clubs had been experiencing in the previous years, and young adults in the 18 to 34 age group made up 35% of players, up from 20% in 2019.
So the question must be, how does the industry take advantage of this opportunity and keep attracting these extra players when the gyms have reopened, all sports have recommenced, commuting grows once again and the work-life balance threatens to start to get back to its old ways.
To start with the obvious – quality and service. Operators and their staff have been so delighted to see players back on their courses that, almost without exception, they have been incredibly welcoming and open. It hasn’t always been like this as we in the industry all know but if it’s been a pleasant improvement, let’s keep it that way! For some the demands on the course have been too much – not many courses have been built and are maintained to stand a roundage of 35,000 plus per year and some are suffering – but frankly if a high roundage is to be maintained then the quality of course maintenance has to keep up with it, and that can be costly. It takes no time to ruin a good green or a tee box but often a complete season to recover and some owners seem to have forgotten this. Some are attempting to discourage high use by reintroducing joining fees, others by lifting prices, but in the long run it’s quality greenkeeping and friendly service that will do the job, keep the players happy and the tills ringing.
And then the nearly as obvious. If the demand is for shorter formats, more choice, and flexibility then golf is one of the sports which can offer this. Not everyone wants to play twice a week, or play a 4 hour round, or have to make up a four rather than a pair – the Par 3 courses have been doing good business and the 9 hole round or even the 6 hole or 10 hole is very popular, and not just towards the latter part of the day. Whatever fits the course it can be managed, and the bar still calls afterwards.
It’s been a real pleasure to see the Golf Foundation HSBC Golf Roots programme get going with a target of introducing 2m kids to golf from 7,500 schools over 5 years. This has to be good for the game and for the health of the nation. And even The Belfry has taken up the baton by announcing this year that they will be hosting the Footgolf UK Open.
Golf courses are still closing and becoming housing, holiday parks or partly rewilded and as very few are being built the stock is slowly decreasing. With greater use of the facilities this should concentrate use on the existing courses and have a positive effect on income, profitability and value so for all owners there’s a strong incentive to get this right. Golf owners we have spoken to think that the industry should be able to keep at least 10% to 20% of the increase in roundage the last 2 years have brought, in the longer term. With the lessons learned over lockdown, and maintenance of quality, service and flexibility, that should be realistically achievable, and the target must be significantly more.
This article first appeared in the Autumn edition of Aspects of Leisure published by Savills UK. and written by Ian Simpson, director and department head. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org