Golf gets younger, more diverse, more popular since COVID-19 pandemic

After years of struggles — an estimated 800 golf courses closed between 2010 and 2019 — golf has been on an upswing in recent years, thanks in part to Americans gravitating toward outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participation grew by 600,000 golfers in 2021 to 37.5 million, according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), and the number of rounds played increased by about 5%, a significant number considering it increased 13% in 2020.

“I would say for some reason — and I don’t even know why — we were personally starting to see a little bit of an uptick the year before the pandemic,” Hanlin said. “Then the pandemic hit, and it was like a rocket blast.

“That first month, we were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, are we even allowed to open?’ Then they said yes, as long as we did things like disinfect the carts and not take the flag out. From then on, it just exploded.”

The most encouraging part? It wasn’t just old white guys playing. The game is getting younger — youth golfers have increased 25% over the past three years, to 3 million — and more diverse, with women now comprising 25% of golfers and minorities at 21%, the NGF said.

“I think golf is in a cool place,” said David Griffith, executive director of the Northern Ohio PGA. “Some of the stars you see on TV now, they’re appealing to different types of people. You’re seeing a lot more women playing the game and a lot more families playing golf.

“It’s not an old, white man sport anymore, for lack of a better term. It’s a young, hip, active sport. A lot of athletes play the game now.”

Much of that started with Tiger Woods, who stood out on the golf course not just for the color of his skin but the shape of his body and the style of his clothes. Golf clothes are lighter, better-fitting and better-looking than ever — some of Hanlin’s choices notwithstanding — with styles that can be worn off the course.

“It’s lifestyle-type apparel,” Griffith said. “You can go out in the evenings wearing golf clothes.”