U.S. golfer population declines in 2008

The golfer population in the U.S. declined to 28.6 million in 2008, down 3 percent from 29.5 million in 2007, according to the National Golf Foundation’s annual participation study.

The study defines a golfer as a person age 6 or older who plays at least one round of golf in a given year. Synovate, a Chicago-based research firm, conducted the study.

The findings underscore a recurring and troubling scenario for the golf industry: People are attracted to the game and give it a try, but just as many – if not more – quit the sport.

According to the study, 4.0 million golfers either approached the game for the first time (1.7 million) or returned after a hiatus (2.3 million). But they were offset by 4.9 million “lost golfers” who played in 2007 but not in 2008.

Declines were recorded by “core” and “occasional” golfers.

Core golfers (age 6+, eight or more rounds a year) dropped 4.5 percent, from 17.3 million to 16.6 million. Occasional golfers (age 6+, one to seven rounds a year) dropped 1.5 percent, from 12.2 million to 12.0 million.

The finding of negative growth in golfers is supported by a drop in rounds played volume of 1.8 percent comparing 2008 vs. 2007, according to NGF officials. They say the recession played a factor in both measures.

“We are definitely attracting new and former golfers from a large pool of latent demand,” said Joe Beditz, NGF president and chief executive. “The challenge for the industry is to slow the loss of existing golfers while increasing the retention rate of those who come in each year.”

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