By Michael Davis
No matter what level we play the great game of golf, everyone is aware that in Covid times it is increasingly difficult to obtain a tee time.
Now the boom in Australian golf, which has been quite anecdotally, has been confirmed by the release of official AusPlay statistics.
They show that golf bucked the downward trend in organised sport caused by the Covid-19 pandemic with 253,000 more adult Australians having played golf in 2020 than in 2019.
And golf globally is undergoing a boom not seen since the Greg Norman era.
It is a far cry from two years ago when memberships in Australia had reached an all-time low of 383,000 and almost 100 golf clubs across the country were on the brink of financial collapse.
The good news, too, is that the new crop of golfers is no longer defined by stereotypical old, white men: golf clubs are reporting a huge uptick in women and young people joining their ranks.
Retailers are also benefiting from the surge in the game’s popularity, according to Ravi Abeyaratne, the marketing director of Drummond Golf, who has been with the company since 1986.
He said his stores were selling twice as much stock and customers are waiting sometimes up to 12 weeks for customised golf clubs, up from around two weeks.
Golf balls are in demand and some brands are constantly out of stock.
“Golf globally is booming, not just in Australia,” he said.
“Factories are having trouble keeping up.
“And we’re finding a significant upturn in store sales and traffic.
“Whereas golf had been perceived as an older person’s sport, we are seeing more young people from diverse backgrounds and genders playing the game.
“We’re also seeing regular golfers playing more golf.
“My brother is captain of Peninsulal-Kingswood where they have two courses. The time sheets are filling up for the week within two hours of opening.”
AusPlay’s survey showed golf had by far the best result for organised sporting activities, with only tennis (185,000) showing a similar upward trend.
AusPlay is the official survey of sporting participation conducted by Sport Australia, the sports arm of the Federal Government.
Beginning in 2015, the survey is the most thorough of its kind conducted in Australia.
Twenty thousand people aged over 15 took part.
Golf Australia chief executive James Sutherland said that golf club memberships were on track to increase by five percent.
“Rusted-on golfers are playing more, retired golfers have come back to the sport and new golfers have discovered it,” Sutherland said.
Figures released by Golf Australia recently showed a 12 per cent increase in competition rounds nationwide over the summer.
Public facilities and driving ranges have also been reporting a huge surge in activity since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Anyone who’s tried to book a tee time or turned up at an overflowing driving range in the last 12 months knows that there’s a big change happening in golf,” Sutherland said.
“To have a quarter of a million new golfers in 2020 is a fabulous thing for the game.
“All the numbers that we are seeing show big increases in participation since the Covid-19 pandemic began in Australia.
“Probably even more importantly, we view this as an opportunity that we haven’t really seen in 20 or 30 years.
“Golf Australia’s primary reason for being is to grow the game in this country. We want more people playing more golf – all ages, genders, socio-economic groups.
“So we’re about making sure that this is not just a spike caused by a pandemic.
“We are working hard to make it a sustainable growth period as we go forward.”
Sutherland said the upcoming national golf strategy, to be formulated as a whole-of-industry policy coming out of a national conference later this year, would be a significant moment for golf as it makes changes into the 21st century.
“As a sport we need to understand that golf is golf wherever it’s played,” he said.
“It’s not just a green grass sport. It’s the driving range, the putt-putt course, the simulator with a few mates.
“It’s not just club members playing
“Our research shows us that there are five times as many people engaging with golf in other ways than there are members of golf clubs, so we need to engage with those people better.
“I think most people know and understand that the industry is very fragmented, but in the future we need to speak with one voice and deliver one message.”