Participation in golf: The shocking facts over the last seven years
Golf in England has lost more than 200,000 weekly, and well over 400,000 monthly, players in just the last seven years, according to new data.
The latest Active People Survey (APS) results, for six months to the end of March, show that 727,700 people aged 16-plus, play golf for at least 30 minutes a week.
In early 2008 the number was 948,400.
The decline has not been steady, with the country seeing most of the drop in one year between 2012 and 2013, when the number of regular golfers in England fell sharply from 908,000 to 772,800.
The survey also found that there were 1.54 million golfers who played the game at least once a month in 2007/8. By March 2015 this figure had plummeted to less than 1.1 million, including a three percent drop in just the final six months.
Despite the huge fall, Sport England is expressing cautious optimism in the figures, because the decline seems to have slowed down in the last two years.
In the last year England lost just over 10,000 once-a-week golfers – less than 13 times the figure from three years earlier.
The report says: “There are increasing signs that we are seeing participation begin to stabilise.”
But, it also questions whether there will be long-term stabilisation because of a downward trend in the 35 to 44-year age group and in monthly participation, which suggests infrequent players are being lost.
David Joy, the chief executive of England Golf, commented: “While the survey contains some encouraging news for golf, the figures also show that we have more work to do. Club membership is still in decline; we particularly need to attract younger people and women and girls into golf; and we need to encourage people to play more often.
“We have changed the focus of our county activity to work closely with clubs to promote structured coaching, regular playing opportunities and memberships. We are also trialling new ways to make golf more accessible and to show how it can fit into a busy lifestyle.
“Our strategic plan, ‘Raising Our Game’, calls on all who care about the game to work together to increase participation and club membership and it has received a tremendous response at club, county and national level. We now need to stay focussed on our strategy, to bring about the further changes required to achieve the further growth that we know is there.”
Sandy Jones, the chief executive of the PGA, added: “The latest figures released by Sport England should be considered as positive news for all who are working in the continued management of golf and the development of the game. Every sector of the golf industry is now working closely together and we are seeing signs, from current feedback of those on the ground at golf facilities, of not just stabilisation of the numbers, but increases in participation in many sectors.
“This is clearly a result of the many new initiatives that have been introduced to stimulate growth and participation. It is without doubt important that golf remains firmly focused on the strategies that it has created to ensure that it remains one of the top five sports that people choose for their pastime activity.”
One statistic the survey shows is that golf is not the worst sport in terms of the gender difference when it comes to participation. Football still has many more males participating in the sport in relation to females, even when compared with golf.