The COVID-19 pandemic not only caused a resurgence in the game of golf, but it introduced a new kind of golfer to the game – one with different needs and priorities. New data from Charting the Course: The KemperSports Golfer Insights Survey, which queried 24,774 current, lapsed and new golfers, revealed that nearly half of new players are looking more for comfortable, social environments rather than keeping and improving their scores.
“There’s no doubt that the pandemic reshaped the game of golf in many ways,” said Steve Skinner, CEO of KemperSports, a leading Chicago-based golf course management company and source of the Insights Survey. “We saw increased play and participation from people of all ages and walks of life, including many beginners and lapsed golfers who returned to the game. This survey data is an important tool to help us keep customers engaged and carry this momentum into the future. It allows us to tap into the changing needs and demands of the new player to deliver experiences that better serve our customers, members and guests.”
Key findings from the survey include:
- The new golfer is a social golfer – younger and female. Gen Z and younger millennials are really getting into the game, with almost 27 percent of new golfers representing the 18-34 age group. In addition, women entered the game in a big way, representing almost 33 percent of new golfers surveyed, compared to the industry average of 24 percent.
- Once they played, they couldn’t stay away. Almost 60 percent of respondents played more than 25 rounds last year, including one-third of new golfers. And, about 30 percent of all respondents played between eight and 24 rounds. This means that more than half of surveyed golfers played more rounds than the industry average.
- 2021 intent to play is even higher than 2020. The majority of new golfers (58 percent) came to the game because of the pandemic. But, they plan to play even more golf in 2021 and intend to play just as much golf in the future as current golfers play, if they feel comfortable and confident. For the new golfer, 30 percent of those surveyed are more likely to come back if they can get instruction and social events.
- “Fun” will keep new players coming back for more. The fun factor is important to new golfers, with more than 40 percent saying fun events or activities combined with golf would motivate them to play more rounds in 2021. And lastly, scores aren’t everything. Only about 12 percent of new golfers said no improvement/lower scores would be a barrier to playing more in 2021.
“These findings point to an optimistic outlook for the game of golf,” Skinner said. “Now it’s on us, golf course operators, to ensure that we are delivering a welcoming, inclusive experience that golfers are so clearly craving. Even when the pandemic subsides, golf courses, clubs and resorts can still be a universal gathering space for people to make connections and have fun.”
KemperSports clients and properties across the country are implementing creative ways to attract and keep these new golfers. For example, the Social 6 series at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington, host of the 2015 U.S. Open, gives players the chance to play casual, 6-hole rounds of golf that end in a social cocktail hour, while the popular Jack and Jill couples league at Sand Creek Station in Newton, Kansas, provides a less intimidating approach to league play. Thornberry Creek at Oneida’s Five After Five initiative creates an opportunity for people to play a shorter round of five holes and is targeted towards those with a busy schedule or players who are new to the game or looking for a quick date night/social activity.
Outside of on-course play, properties are also shifting their physical spaces to accommodate socialization and gatherings. Timberlinks in Denton, Texas, is creating a fun patio space for people to gather after their rounds, an idea that came about specifically after witnessing an increase in younger golfers flooding to the course.
The company also promotes relationships with innovative partners in the game across its portfolio, such as DiscoverGolf and Spark Golf League to better serve the Gen Z and millennial audience. DiscoverGolf helps junior golfers learn golf fundamentals through entertaining and enriching games that establish an atmosphere conducive with exploring and understanding the game.
Additionally, Colwood Golf Center in Portland, Oregon, features a 9-hole, par-3 course designed with shorter rounds in mind that features a lively atmosphere with music and creative happy hour programming. Colwood also added indoor simulators for lessons and more social, casual play as well as a 7-hole pitch and putt course that was created from extra, unused green space – all to promote a welcoming atmosphere for new and experienced players alike.
This year, KemperSports launched its new All Welcome initiative designed to attract, welcome and retain new and diverse golfers at our properties. The playbook provides KemperSports’ clients and locations with research insights, property assessments, communication toolkits and event programming that invites new players to enjoy the game their way and helps them feel more welcome once they arrive. As part of the program, participating KemperSports properties offer complimentary 15-minute lessons, virtual/social instructional content and clinics as part of its player development initiatives.
In conjunction with All Welcome and the need to grow and diversify the game beyond the pandemic surge, the company also signed on as the first golf course management company to help launch the golf industry’s new Make Golf Your Thing initiative alongside the PGA TOUR, PGA of America, Callaway, Titleist and more. Through this movement, KemperSports will be offering a series of social and instructional events to create the welcoming atmosphere these new golfer’s desire, along with a supporting marketing campaign to attract new and diverse audiences to the game.