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Golf has long been one of the UK’s most popular sports to participate in, but recent years have seen its numbers explode.
The game’s popularity in the UK saw a huge initial surge in 2020 with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. During that year, a staggering 5.2 million adults played on either a nine or 18-hole course across Great Britain, with 540,000 in Ireland (north and south of the border) for a total of 5.74m.
There was a slight drop-off in 2021, with the figure in Great Britain reaching 4.8 million according to research from the R&A, England Golf, Golf Ireland, Scottish Golf and Wales Golf. However, there was a small increase in on-course adult participation in Ireland to give a total figure of 5.3 million despite increased competition from other leisure pursuits as the country began to reopen.
There is little doubt one of the main reasons adults were inspired to head to their local course during those years was the pandemic, but that doesn't tell the whole story, as the numbers had been increasing even before Covid-19. For example, there were 2.5 million players in Great Britain in 2017, which increased to three million two years later.
The number of females playing the game also grew in Great Britain and Ireland, up from 1.47 million in 2020 to 1.71 million in 2021 - a trend will offer encouragement to initiatives including the Women’s Golf Community, which aims to bring female golfers together via local meetups.
While those numbers are impressive, what about the numbers of registered players? The 2021 European Participation Report from the European Golf Association and the R&A found that England had 692,500 registered golfers in 2021, up from 637,524 in 2020. That represents 1.22% of the population. In fact, England had the most registered golfers in Europe in 2021, with Germany in second place and over 40,000 fewer.
As for the rest of the UK and Ireland, Wales had 47,852 registered golfers in 2021, which is 1.51% of the population and up from 43,408 players in 2020. Scotland had 192,724 registered golfers in 2021, up from 179,832 in 2020. That increase equated to 3.53% of the population. Finally, Ireland had 202,750 registered golfers in 2021, up from 184,017 the previous year, making up 2.94% of the population.
Want more stats? In 2021, over 3.5 million people used a driving range in Great Britain and Ireland, the second highest figure in 20 years. Elsewhere, Par-3 course use rose from 27,000 to 41,000, while 15% of the UK population attempted or took up any on-course or off-course version of the game due to the pandemic across 2020 and 2021.
While there are concerns that the cost of the golf in the UK is set to skyrocket, and there are reports of some popular courses at risk of closure, for the time being, at least, the game is thriving in the UK.
Mike has 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on sports such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the sport’s most newsworthy stories. Originally from East Yorkshire, Mike now resides in Canada, where the nearest course is less than a mile from his home. It’s there where he remains confident that, one of these days, he’ll play the 17th without finding the water. Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.