National study’s results spell rare good news for golf markets such as Myrtle Beach

Teams compete in the class 3A boys golf state championship’s final round at True Blue Plantation Tuesday, May 16, 2017. True Blue hosted rounds during the 21st Palmetto High School Golf Championship last week.
Teams compete in the class 3A boys golf state championship’s final round at True Blue Plantation Tuesday, May 16, 2017. True Blue hosted rounds during the 21st Palmetto High School Golf Championship last week. For The Sun News

The Myrtle Beach golf market received some good news nationally for a change.

Golf participation in the U.S. increased for the first time in 15 years in 2018, according to the National Golf Foundation’s 2019 Golf Industry Report, a comprehensive state-of-the-industry overview.

An estimated 24.2 million people (age 6 or older) played golf on a course in 2018, up from 23.8 million the previous year.

That’s welcomed news for an industry that has been in decline or stalled since the NGF reported an all-time high of 30-plus million golfers in 2003.

It’s also welcomed news for the Myrtle Beach golf market – stretching from Georgetown to Southport, N.C. – which is one of the world’s top golf destinations with approximately 90 courses, including about 80 open to the public.

“It could mean there is an upward trend, but there’s going to be fluctuation and it’s close to being within the study’s margin of error,” said Bill Golden, chief executive officer of the Golf Tourism Solutions marketing and technology agency that promotes the Myrtle Beach market. “The good news is it has stabilized, and if it’s the beginning of an upward trend that’s great news, but it’s too early to tell.”

Golden is the NGF treasurer and in his ninth and final year as a board member.

The NGF study looked at several aspects of the industry.

It states almost as many people play off-course forms of the game, with 23 million hitting golf balls with clubs at golf entertainment facilities like Topgolf and Drive Shack, indoor simulators and driving ranges. With 9.3 million people exclusively playing golf off-course, the game’s overall participant pool has increased 4 percent to 33.5 million.

Industry leaders hope facilities like Topgolf that are introducing the game to more people will translate to more dedicated players. Topgolf has 50 U.S. venues, including one that opened in Myrtle Beach on March 1, and is rapidly expanding.

“Topgolf is a great business model and it definitely offers a faster version of golf, the gamification of it,” Golden said. “Its role in developing golfers and bringing more golfers to courses remains to be seen, but having more people with golf clubs in their hands is a very positive thing.”

The NGF study claims 2.6 million beginners picked up the game in 2018, and there are 14.7 million people who didn’t play golf last year but say they are “very interested” in playing golf on a course.

The increased participation did not lead to more rounds nationwide, however.

There were 434 million rounds of golf played in 2018, a 4.8 percent year-over-year decline attributable in part to the third-wettest year on record nationally dating back to 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Rounds played on the Grand Strand dropped 7.13 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, according to rounds booked on the T-Links electronic tee sheet reservation system used by nearly 80 Strand courses and reported by the Myrtle Beach Area Golf Course Owners Association. Strand rounds had increased 4.1 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, the first increase in 13 years.

The U.S. golf course supply declined by 1.2 percent in 2018 with just 12.5 new 18-hole equivalent courses opening and 198.5 course closures. Closures have outweighed new openings nationwide since 2006, continuing a correction of supply and demand following a 20-year building boom that accounted for 4,000 course openings to boost the U.S. supply by 44 percent.

The Grand Strand has lost approximately 30 courses since 2005.

The U.S. still has the most courses in the world with 14,613 facilities and 16,693 layouts, according to the NGF report.

Other highlights from the 2018 Golf Industry Report:

Approximately one-third (107 million people) of the U.S. population played, watched or read about golf in 2018.

Juniors (ages 6-17) and young adults (18-34) comprise approximately 35 percent of on-course golfers, the number of golfers age 65 and older increased almost 17 percent to 4.2 million and should increase as Baby Boomers reach the age, and 5.7 million women played on a course in 2018 to account for 23 percent of the on-course golfer base and 44 percent of off-course-only play.

Newcomers to golf are increasingly diverse: 31 percent are female, 26 percent are non-Caucasian and 62 percent are under the age of 35.

Golfers played an average of 18 rounds in 2018 and the average price of an 18-hole round at a public golf facility was $35.

Golf is an $84 billion industry.

Palmetto crowns champ

Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue Golf Club hosted the 21st annual Palmetto High School Golf Championship this past Thursday through Saturday, and Mater Dei of California won the tournament, which featured 29 teams from six states.

The 54-hole, college-style event was cut to 36 holes of stroke play competition because of inclement weather on Friday.

Mater Dei’s Jaden Cantafio shot a 5-under-par 67 at True Blue on Saturday to earn medalist honors and help the Monarchs take a 12-stroke win over runner-up Charlotte Catholic with a 10-over 586. Cantafio’s 4-under 140 was two shots better than Hunter Battles of Muscle Shoals (Ala.) High.

Waccamaw High was the lone Grand Strand team in the competition and finished third in the First Flight, which was secondary to the Championship Flight. Waccamaw’s Zary Gouin finished fourth individually in the first flight at 11-over 153.

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Alan Blondin covers golf, Coastal Carolina athletics and numerous other sports-related topics that warrant coverage. Well-versed in all things Myrtle Beach, Horry County and the Grand Strand, the Northeastern University journalism school valedictorian has been a sports reporter at The Sun News since 1993, earning eight top-10 Associated Press Sports Editors national writing awards and 18 top-three S.C. Press Association writing awards since 2007.