Mild fall and winter weather in much of the U.S. contributed to an increase in rounds played in 2015, the National Golf Foundation announced.
Total U.S. rounds were up 1.8 percent last year compared with 2014, the first increase since 2012, according to an NGF report. Milder weather in colder regions of the country played a big role in boosting the final annual numbers. Rounds played in October-December jumped by 12 percent from the previous year, lifting the final 2015 tally.
Many course operators also told the NGF that an improving economy helped boost rounds played.
We didn't have a golf course contract in the United States since probably 2006. We've got seven or eight this year. We've got a lot of work coming on this year. . . . I think golf's made a turnaround. I think the game is coming back.
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Paid rounds were down about 1 percent on the Grand Strand, according to statistics compiled by marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, and the area did not benefit from October weather as other parts of the country did. Record rainfall and flooding hit the area early in the month.
NGF also believes committed golfers are playing more frequently, as research shows average rounds played per golfer have steadily increased since 2003, with the country’s approximate 25 million golfers averaging just shy of 20 rounds played last year.
NGF research also found course closures continued to outpace openings in 2015, with a net reduction of 148.5 courses, or a 1 percent contraction from 2014, leaving approximately 14,300 18-hole equivalent courses. There were 177 permanent closures and only 17 new courses opened in 2015, the NGF reported, but that was up from 11 openings in 2014.
Since 2006, the number of golf course closures has outpaced the number of openings each year, which is considered a market correction, though the total supply has diminished only about 5 percent, the NGF says.
There is an increased interest in new golf projects however, according to course designer Jack Nicklaus. He said last week that he has more than a half-dozen contracts to build new courses in the U.S., his first domestic contracts for new courses in about a decade. He and other architects have instead had design projects in Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and elsewhere.
“We've got a lot of work coming on this year, and most all of it is new work, which is amazing to me,” Nicklaus said. “When the economy went south in the United States, [we had] the opportunity to go to China, go to Russia, go to the Middle East, go to New Zealand, Australia, South America, places that we normally wouldn't go.
“I think golf's made a turnaround. I think the game is coming back.”