NGF Response To NY Times: "Mortality/Infirmity – some of the infirm return to play another day"

National Golf Foundation Vice President Greg Nathan took issue with the recent New York Times front page article on the Americans giving up golf, and sent out an email to "friends and colleagues in the golf industry."

One of those friends forwarded his comments:

I’ve received a few inquiries regarding The New York Timespiece that appeared last Thursday (“More Americans Are Giving Up Golf”).  Since the article included National Golf Foundationdata to support the writer’s negative view on the state of golf participation, I wanted to make sure you had the straight story on the numbers, directly from me and the NGF.    
There were a number of factual errors in the story and the general perception may be that all the data and conclusions are completely consistent with the NGF's perspective. That is not the case, however, and the NGF has forwarded a correction to The New York Times.
To clarify a few things:
The article correctly cites our data showing that the number of Core golfers (those playing eight or more rounds per year) has fallen from 17.7 million in 2000 to 15 million in 2006. This drop is due, in large part, to golfers “on the cusp” who have reduced their play from eight or 10 or 12 rounds per year, to seven or less rounds, and thus are reclassified as Occasional vs. Core golfers.
While the reduction in core golfers presents a meaningful challenge to the growth of golf businesses, the damage to the industry is mitigated by the stability of overall U.S.rounds played.  Annual rounds have remained static at roughly 500 million over the past five years. So, effectively, the activity of the 28.7 million U.S.golfers is holding stable at approximately 17 rounds per year, on average.
I’m not sure where the writer found his data for avid golfers (those playing 25 or more rounds annually). These are not from the NGF, though many readers came away with the impression that we were the source.
Regarding attrition, the writer stated that “about three million golfers quit playing each year and slightly fewer than that have been picking it up.”  The NGF never discussed this topic with the writer. In a study we did a few years ago, we estimated that about three million golfers come into the game each year. Of these, half, or 1.5 million, are retained for at least one year and the other half try it, and then decide golf is not for them. Meanwhile, 1.5 million previously existing golfers leave the game for three main reasons:
Mortality/Infirmity – some of the infirm return to play another day
The mortality ones probably don't make it back another day.
Hiatus takers – they return later

That's why they call it a hiatus!

Quitters – they don’t return
Thus, there is a net gain of roughly 1.5 million newand a loss of 1.5 million existing golfers per year – resulting in little or no growth.
The article also states that the total number of golfers dropped from 30 million in 2000 to 26 million currently. This is not correct, and NGF did not provide these numbers to the writer. Our data shows that the number of total golfers actually increased from 28.1 million in 2000 to 28.7 million in 2006, an increase of approximately 2%.
The NGF's mission is to Help Golf Businesses Succeed.  Reporting the most accurate possible data to the industry is central to our efforts.  I hope this was a helpful clarification of the flat, yet stable participation we've experienced in recent years.  The results of the NGF's 2007 participation study are starting to come in and initial numbers are positive.  More to come on that in the spring.

Flat, yet stable. And the spring collection looks strong. Especially in Canada, as reader Patrick noted this Garth Woolsey article saying things are better north of the border.

Staying interested is another matter. But a Stats Canada study in 2005 established that among Canadians aged 15 or over, golf had the highest participation rate of all sports, at about 22 per cent (one of the highest in the sport among all nations), ahead of, in order, hockey, baseball, swimming, basketball, volleyball and soccer.