Golf's Worldwide Popularity Soaring, New R&A Report Reveals

The number of people turning to golf during the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rise

Golf's Worldwide Popularity Soaring
(Image credit: The R&A)

New research figures revealed by The R&A and Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS) show golf has enjoyed a significant increase in popularity worldwide since 2016 with over five-and-a-half million additional golfers taking up the sport.

The number of total golfers globally has increased from 61 million to 66.6 million in a five-year growth period, surpassing the previous high of 61.6 million set in 2012. The measure includes club members and non-member independent golfers playing nine or 18 holes and users of driving ranges in markets where course availability is limited.

The new figure reflects a positive trend in golf in which participation levels are now rising worldwide after a period of decline. This was recently highlighted in the 2021 European Golf Participation Report, which revealed that over 10.6 million golfers now enjoy playing full-length courses on the continent – a healthy increase from the 7.9 million last monitored in 2016.

RELATED: Golf courses abandon gendered tee markers

Speaking on the matter, Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A, said: "Golf is enjoying a real boom in popularity at the moment and we are seeing substantial increases in participation in many parts of the world, particularly in the last two years when the sport could be played safely outdoors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The new figures are very encouraging but we need to work together as a sport to make the most of this opportunity by retaining those people who have returned to golf or tried it for the first time. We can achieve this by offering a variety of attractive and flexible options that encourage golfers to play more regularly and enjoy its many health and wellbeing benefits with family and friends.”

SMS collected participation data reported by national federations in different regions around the world, using nationally representative studies and expert estimates to calculate the global number of total golfers.

Regions experiencing the largest rises include Asia (20.9 million to 23.3 million); Europe (7.9 million to 10.6 million – driven largely by an additional 2.1 million golfers in Great Britain and Ireland); and North America (29.9 million to 30.6 million).

The research figures indicate the growth trend began before Covid-19 and then accelerated during the pandemic as the popularity of golf grew due to golfers being able to socially distance in a safe outdoor setting and stay active to boost their physical and mental health.

In Great Britain, the number of adults playing a nine or 18-hole course began to gradually increase before the onset of Covid-19, rising from 2.5 million in 2017 to 2.8 million in 2018, then to 3 million in 2019, before surging to 5.2 million in 2020.

Following the easing of lockdown restrictions, The R&A sought to carry out additional research into this rise in demand and how different types of golfers were engaging with the sport.

The Post Covid Opportunity Research, along with findings from Bayfirth Research, details experiences of golfers during the pandemic, motivations for playing and long-term plans for the future. Among new golfers, 98% of those interviewed identified they are enjoying playing golf and 95% see themselves playing golf for many years to come.

RELATED: Fire breaks out at The Belfry

The research also outlined recommendations clubs can take to retain new players, including feeling welcome and valued; a friendly culture and relaxed atmosphere; participation options based on ability and experience; good customer service; having an efficient booking system; the quality and maintenance of the course; and, importantly, playing in an encouraging environment.

The R&A also launched a Covid-19 Support Fund to help golf deal with the impact of the pandemic, with the £7 million funding package largely aimed at national federations and other affiliated bodies in Great Britain and Ireland.

Further support for national federations is set to come in 2022. The R&A is creating a series of new assets to help market and promote the sport so that more people are encouraged to take up golf and existing golfers are retained.

Andrew Wright
Andrew Wright

A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he went on to enjoy a spell freelancing for Stats Perform covering football, and then for RacingNews365 covering Formula 1, but he couldn't turn down the opportunity to get back into the sport he grew up watching and playing. He now covers a mixture of equipment, instruction and news for Golf Monthly's website and print title.


Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a handicap of 1. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.


As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.