Number of UK Golfers Almost Doubles In Five Years

While slightly down from their pandemic peak, golf numbers are still generally on the up

Participation in golf has almost doubled over the past five years in Great Britain
(Image credit: Future)

Golf participation levels have almost doubled in the past five years as the boost to numbers from the pandemic looks to have resulted in a permanent growth of the game, according to research from The R&A. Figures released in conjunction with England Golf, Golf Ireland, Scottish Golf and Wales Golf show the number of on-course adults in Great Britain has risen from 2.5million in 2017 to 4.8million in 2021 while a total of 5.3million adults enjoyed a round on a full length course (nine or 18 holes) in Great Britain and Ireland in 2021.

“It is extremely positive that the number of on-course adult golfers remained so strong in Great Britain and Ireland last year,” said Phil Anderton, Chief Development Officer at The R&A. “The vast majority of lapsed or non-golfers who took up golf during the pandemic have continued to play, with the sport remaining very popular in the use of full-length courses, driving ranges and alternative golf venues in particular.”

Covid-19 gave a boost to golf, as it was one of the few sports that could still be enjoyed, but numbers show that while there has been a slight regression in player numbers since everything else opened up again post-pandemic, numbers are still way above where they were before we’d even heard of Covid-19. Golf participation was already on the up before then, with the number of on-course adults in Great Britain rising from 2.5million in 2017 to 3million in 2019, before surging to 5.2million in 2020. While the 2021 figure of 4.8million golfers is slightly down on that peak, the long-term trend is undoubtedly upwards.

Female participation also continued to grow in Great Britain last year to 34%, up from 1.4million to 1.6million, while the number of avid golfers – those playing more than once a week on average – more than doubled in 2021, from 149,000 to 339,000. It’s not just full length golf courses that are proving popular, with more than 3.5million people using a driving range in Britain last year – the second-highest figure of the last 20 years – while Par-3 course use rose from 27,000 to 41,000. The average age of golfers remained at 41, the same as in 2020, with 15% of those trying or restarting golf citing the pandemic as the main reason over 2020 and 2021.

In Ireland, total adult golfers was up marginally in 2021, from 540,000 to 543,000, with the number playing more than once a week up from 161,000 to 201,000. The percentage of people who took up or restarted golf in 2020 or 2021 because of the pandemic was larger in the younger age groups, 29% in the 15-24 year olds compared to 18% overall. There’s little doubt that golf enjoyed a significant boom during the pandemic, but this data from two reports from Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS), shows participation is still well above the rates in the years prior to Covid-19.

“Golfers are enjoying positive experiences of the sport, supported by a wide range of participation initiatives and communication around the benefits of the sport for physical and mental health,” added Anderton. “It is important to maintain this momentum and ensure golfers enjoy the sport at all levels.”

Jeff Kimber
Jeff Kimber

Jeff graduated from Leeds University in Business Studies and Media in 1996 and did a post grad in journalism at Sheffield College in 1997. His first jobs were on Slam Dunk (basketball) and Football Monthly magazines, and he's worked for the Sunday Times, Press Association and ESPN. He has faced golfing greats Sam Torrance and Sergio Garcia, but on the poker felt rather than the golf course. Jeff's favourite course played is Sandy Lane in Barbados, which went far better than when he played Matfen Hall in Northumberland, where he crashed the buggy on the way to the 1st tee!