When you think about golf, what do you see? Do you see players or do you see a course? Do you think about your own game, or the reasons you are not attracted by the game?  

Golf is one of the most expensive sports to play at all levels. The cost of the clubs can reach thousands, and the price of course fees can exceed $100 a round. The initial cost prevents many from giving the game a chance, but 2020 saw some of the biggest jumps in year-to-year participation since 2003, according to the National Golf Foundation Editorial Director Erik Matuszewski.  

 Why It’s Newsworthy: Golf has seen a 21% increase in play from 2019 to 2020. More than 5 million people have started or restarted playing golf over the last year. Golf is designed to be played at distance but can be hard to get started in for people who do not know enough about the game.  

 

“This was the most significant year-to-year net increase since 2003 in play and participation,” said Matuezewski via email, “thanks to a record inflow of 6.2 million beginning and returning players joining the game in 2020.” 

The record 6.2 million additional players was offset by 5.7 million who stepped away to the game due to COVID-19 concerns, financial hardship and loss of opportunities. The National Golf Foundation also reported a 19% outflow of people stepping away from golf from 2019 to 2020. 

Golf was one of the few sports that could remain open through 2020. The open spaces and outdoor environment created a safe place for physical and social activity during the pandemic. Over 60 million more rounds of golf were played in 2020 than in 2019. 

Coaching

Bob Cunningham, a golf instructor from Winder, Georgia, agreed that the pandemic has provided more people the chance to play the game. Cunningham works with a variety of golfers, from former athletes to grandparents with their grandchildren. COVID-19 did not stop him from working with students. 

Coach Bob Cunningham inside of B&E Custom Golf. (Photo Courtesy/Bob Cunningham)

“My student rate is up 50% in the last year,” said Cunningham. “My home golf course in Winder [Pine Hills Golf Course] has seen similar growth as golf provides relief from being contained inside.” 

Cunningham provides free online instruction through his YouTube channel but prefers one-on-one with his students to keep teaching them an easier way to play. He allows students to practice with their families in group sessions. These sessions allow children to be introduced to the game at a cheaper rate while learning with a family member. 

“You know, a lot of people pick up the game but it is so hard, they fail miserably,” said Cunningham. “They feel bad about themselves because they played sports pretty easy but struggle when the ball is just sitting there.”

The Price

The ability to play comes with time but the pricing for individual rounds can still be high for many trying to get into golf. Courses are becoming more aware of the need to reach new players to keep revenues up through the pandemic. Online tee time booking gives players a way to easily compare and find places to play. These platforms like Supreme Golf, GolfNow and TeeOff also offer rewards and rounds at discounted rates. 

Lane Creek Golf Club in Bishop, Georgia offers an alternative membership to allow people to play on their terms. This plan is a monthly fee that allows the member to play at a discounted rate each round they play. The lifestyle club membership is $39.99 each month for membership at the club, plus an additional fee depending on the amount of holes and day of the week the individual is playing. The weekend member rate is $20 per round while the weekend non-member fee is $33 per round. Lane Creek is owned by L & J Golf. The company also owns Jennings Mill Country Club in Athens and the Country Club of Gwinnett. 

“I had someone sign up for the family lifestyle membership recently,” said L&J Golf Membership Director Cecelia Cogilano. “They said ‘my kid is just picking up golf, I really want them to get into it and I want to get into it with them, too’” added Cogilano.

Golf has became more inclusive and a new way for people to socialize while staying at a safe distance. The new question is, will they continue to play the game?

Thomas Brown is a senior majoring in journalism with a Certificate in Sports Media in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

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