Tait: Number of European golfers decreased in 2011

Has the golf bubble finally burst in Europe? That would seem to be the evidence from a recent survey.

In 2011, there was a decline in the number of European golfers for the first time in 20 years. “The Golf Participation in Europe 2011 Survey,” produced by KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice, found Europe suffered a net loss of 46,000 golfers last year, with the total number of registered golfers falling below 4.4 million (minus 1 percent). The United Kingdom & Ireland suffered the biggest loss, with numbers down by 42,700, or 3.1 percent.

Sweden and Spain also had golfers leaving the fairways in significant numbers. Sweden’s golf population fell by 21,000, a 4.1 percent reduction. Spain lost 9,700, a 2.9 percent drop.

“While the growth of golf started to slow down after 2005, last year was the first time there was an actual decrease in registered golfers,” said Andrea Sartori, head of KPMG’s Golf Advisory Practice. “The decline can be attributed to two factors: the reduction in the number of golfers in some of Europe’s largest golf markets, especially the UK and Ireland, and the lack of dynamic growth in Europe’s emerging markets, specifically eastern Europe and the southeast Mediterranean.”

The decline follows a period of unprecedented growth since the 1980s, when the number of golfers more than tripled and a doubling in the number of courses took place. The number of courses actually increased last year, going up 0.7 percent, to 6,740.

According to the survey, the number of golfers in the UK and Ireland fell to 1,326,700 but still more than doubles the number in Germany, Europe’s second-highest market, with 610,000. Germany helped stem the decline with a 10,800 increase. Other countries with increases included the Netherlands (up 7,600), Finland (up 4,600) and the Czech Republic (up 3,500).

Feedback conducted during the survey suggests that European golf clubs are not doing enough to encourage golfers to remain in the game.

“Golf clubs need to proactively and effectively face up to the challenging economic climate to retain members or attract new golfers,” Sartori said. “Based on our survey, rather than introducing youth and family programs, and promotional packages, approximately 30-40 percent of Europe’s operators and club managers actually increased prices in 2011. More than half of clubs have not invested in enhanced marketing – and many have not yet capitalized on the opportunities provided by online marketing and social media.”

The survey also found the game remains male dominated, with men accounting for 65 percent of participants, women 25 percent and juniors 10 percent.

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