The State of Golf: Past, Present, and Future
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The State of Golf: Past, Present, and Future

The State of Golf: Past, Present, and Future

Guest Post by Brian Peña @ Red Birdie Golf

When most people think of golfers, they almost immediately think of one name: Tiger Woods.  I mean who can blame them, he burst on the scene in the 1990’s and dominated the game through the early and mid-2000’s.

He has without question, led the game to the popularity it has today.  Although he is much older and he’s not the player he used to be, when he’s in contention, TV ratings immediately spike.  Just look at the numbers from his most recent major win at the 2019 Masters.

Even though Tiger Woods made golf what it is today, and his popularity is waning, it has been a game with a storied history but also a bright future.

History of Golf

The game of golf began in the 15th century on the east coast of Scotland.  In fact, it was so popular that King James II banned the game in 1457 because the military was neglecting its training responsibilities.  Many still ignored the ban until it was ultimately lifted in 1502.

Upon receiving an endorsement from King Charles, I and Mary Queen of Scots, the game’s popularity exploded even further.

Today the Old Course at St Andrews is considered the oldest golf course in the world dating back to 1552.

Fast forward about 350 hundred years and golf was gaining popularity in the United States.  In 1894, the USGA (United States Golf Association) was formed and became the overseeing body in the US and Mexico.  By 1900, golf was officially recognized as an Olympic sport and was now a global game.

Around this same time, the modern golf celebrity was born.  American players such as Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, and Ben Hogan were considered some of the greatest players in the world winning multiple British and US Opens.

Then the 1960’s arrived, and 3 names dominated the golf scene: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player.  Over the next 20 years these 3 won nearly every major US and international event.  Today, Jack is widely considered to be the greatest golfer ever holding a record 18 majors.

In the early 1990’s Greg Norman was considered the best golfer and held the #1 World Golf Rank for what was at that time a record 96 straight weeks.  Then on August 27,1996 this happened:

Tiger Woods brought a transcendence to the game never seen before.  Before playing his first pro tournament he signed a $40,000,000 endorsement deal with Nike. Prior to his arrival there were about 24.4 million golfers by 2006 that number increased about 20% to almost 30 million. In 1996, the average purse and 1st place winnings were $1,529,545 and $263,341, respectively.  In 2016, those numbers were $6,926,087 for the total purse and $1,258,861 for 1st place or almost a 400% increase!

Current State of Golf

After Tiger’s injuries and marital problems post 2008 US Open victory combined with “The Great Recession”, the game experienced a dip but still held on strong to those that really loved the game.  Here’s a look at the number of golfers over the past few years:

Year                Number of Golfers in US

2005                30,000,000

2010                26,100,000

2011                25,500,000

2012                25,300,000

2016                23,800,000


Although participation has dropped back down to pre-Tiger Woods numbers, golfers are still a passionate group of people. There are some young outstanding golfers like Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson who took up the game because of Tiger.  In fact, these guys are showing talent levels equal to or greater than Tiger Woods himself.

In addition, the golf equipment is a $6 billion dollar industry with brand name drivers for beginners going for almost $500 and iron sets going from $600-$1,500. Herein lies one of the main problems with golf; it’s an expensive game that’s perceived to be incredibly stuffy!

The Future

To address the decline in golf participation and to introduce it to more people, golf has partially shifted its focus to experiences. Places like TopGolf are showing that golf isn’t such a stuffy, expensive game for elitists but rather it’s something that can be enjoyed by the masses.

The goal appears to be to introduce people to the game and eventually have them visit a traditional golf course. So far the first part of the strategy seems to be working.  When you combine people who have enjoyed golf in some way, whether it be playing a real golf course or just hitting a golf ball with a club, the number of people “experiencing” golf is closer to 32 million!

Whether this strategy results in more rounds being played at a traditional golf course remains to be seen but there is no doubt more people than ever are at least intrigued by one of the greatest games in the world.

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