KPMG: Golf’s growth rate slows in Europe

The 314-yard par 4, eighth hole on the Bracken Course at Woodhall Spa in Woodhall Spa, England.

The 314-yard par 4, eighth hole on the Bracken Course at Woodhall Spa in Woodhall Spa, England.

The number of European golfers – which grew at an annual clip of 5 percent during the first half of the past decade – slowed to less than half that rate in the past five years, according to a new KPMG report.

Demand growth, measured by the number of registered players in Europe, fell to 1 to 2 percent annually since 2005, according to the just-released “Golf Participation in Europe 2010” survey by KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice.

The group, based in Budapest, Hungary, conducts a variety of golf research and annually hosts the Golf Business Forum, a major industry conference focused on international development.

The report’s findings highlight considerable concerns as well as areas of opportunities for golf business leaders. Among the troubling issues: The number of golfers in Europe’s largest golf market, the UK & Ireland, declined 4 percent last year, and eight other countries suffered participation declines, too.

But the analysis also shows that more than half of the countries studied by KPMG are in the early stages of golf development, meaning there still is much room for growth.

Most promising, many emerging golf markets demonstrated they were involved with junior-golfer initiatives and achieving success with them.

In fact, the following countries had the highest share of junior golfers (compared with all golfers in their respective countries): Turkey – 51 percent; Latvia – 28 percent; Romania – 24 percent; Greece – 21 percent; and Czech Republic – 15 percent. By comparison, European countries, on average, reported that juniors account for 10 percent of their golfer population.

To no surprise, the KPMG report confirmed participation is heavily skewed toward men, whom account for 65 percent of all golfers. (The balance comprises 25 percent women and 10 percent juniors.) But it also highlighted several countries that might serve as case studies for generating more female participation: In Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Benelux, women represent more than 30 percent of the golfer population.

Though golf’s slowdown is disturbing, the sport can capitalize on rising stars – such as Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and the Molinari brothers, Francesco and Eduardo – and its inclusion in the Olympics to spur public interest.

But for that potential to be realized, KPMG insists “governments, tourism bodies, as well as golf federations and associations have a crucial role in encouraging the industry to join forces.”

In its conclusion, the KPMG report urges: “More playable courses are needed to sit alongside championship courses, making the game more attractive and accessible to a wider cross-section of people. Bringing golf to school level, tailoring the clubhouse to women and families, and offering more family-friendly services are all important. . .”

Added Andrea Sartori, head of KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice: “Our survey shows there are still areas in Europe where significant steps could be taken to grow the game. However, as our findings also suggest, with decreasing participation levels in many countries in recent years, it is an obvious sign for golf course owners that the sport should no longer be a game of the elite.”

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To obtain a free copy of the “Golf Participation in Europe 2010” report and other KPMG industry research, visit www.golfbusinesscommunity.com.

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