PGA study reveals 40 percent of UK adults engaged with golf

Golfing authorities must capitalize on a newly discovered ‘golf nation’ and drive perception issues out of bounds for good.

Research commissioned by The Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) has revealed that 17.5 million people across the UK and Ireland are engaged with golf without stepping foot on a course.

It’s a staggering figure if valid, and when added to the 4.9 million ‘on-course’ players, golf has an addressable audience of 22.4 million people.

That equates to 40% of the UK’s adult population (22.4 million), a figure enviable by any governing body across the British sporting landscape, representing a unique opportunity for the game to expand into new markets with exciting economic potential.

If only Rishi Sunak had this information earlier, perhaps making golf more accessible would have made it into his five key priorities.

The ground-breaking findings from the ‘Golf for All’ research project undertaken by market research company Ipsos, have been described as “enlightening” by Robert Maxfield, Chief Executive of the PGA.

He added: “It has confirmed our expectation that golf has changed irrevocably, and that there is huge scope for the golf industry to be more inclusive of different forms of the game and the people who play them.”

Changed or changing?

‘Golf has changed. It’s not what you thought it was’ – reads the report’s opening statement.

There is no question that technology, enterprise, and innovation have exposed golf to new audiences. Notably, two-thirds (11.4 million) of those who physically ‘play golf’ partake only in non-traditional forms of the game including adventure golf, driving ranges, and golf simulators.

This audience, who historically would never contemplate describing themselves as golfers now find themselves the focus of attention for golf’s decision-makers, and this can only be a good thing for the game moving forward.

Whether played with a beer in hand on the neon carpets of a crazy golf venue, or on the world’s most iconic courses in simulated reality, golf should be about having fun, and not something to feel intimidated by.

That is why it is disappointing to hear this new wave of potential golfers still quote feelings of not being good enough, or perceptions of elitism, as the predominant reasons for their engagement not translating to the ‘real’ golfing world.

And it must be questioned whether this is a world that’s changing, or simply remaining stuck level par despite the work of initiatives from organizations such as the Golf Foundation which aim to deliver golf to new faces across the UK and change lives through the power of golf.

The ‘Golf for All’ report described today’s typical ‘on-course golfer’ to be male (75%), white (94%), and from one of the three highest social and economic groups (75%).

With regard to non-traditional golf formats, however, the PGA is right to draw encouragement from its wider player base that shows a narrowing in some diversification gaps, particularly gender, where only a 6% differential exists, more closely reflecting national representation.

Seven out of ten participants though are still likely to be from those higher educated/paid backgrounds and nine out of ten are still reported to be white.

‘Golf has Changed’ is perhaps a slightly misleading conclusion from this research.

It has almost certainly demonstrated however the potential to appeal to non-traditional golfers and capture their imagination, but the sport’s diversification journey is still very much on the first hole at Torrey Pines (meaning there’s a long way to go for the millions of non-golfing-golfers reading this).

“The report itself gives us detailed insight and is a ground-breaking look into just how far the game has come, and how big the opportunity is to tap into a huge population of people who are already engaged in golf.

“It gives the industry the chance to diversify the sport’s fan base and user base, and that is hugely exciting,” said Maxfield.”

Getting out of the rough

The critical question of ‘how’ to tap into this golf-hungry population appears crucial.

Playing regularly on a full-length course and becoming a member of a golf club are the most likely hurdles according to the report that prevent infrequent golfers from engaging fully with everything the game has to offer.

There are plenty of Apps now dedicated to helping the casual golfer secure a tee time at a local course without the need for a handicap or having to sit down and have their character interrogated before being blessed to swing on a club’s hallowed turf.

A major stumbling block, as rightfully pointed out in the report, is tuition. Golf is notoriously hard – perhaps the hardest of all sports from a technical perspective.

Progressing from the 18th hole at Ghetto Golf on your mate’s stag do to the first tee on a full-length golf course is not exactly confidence-inspiring preparation.

Affordability has to be acknowledged as a significant hurdle and the PGA needs to prioritize how they can support coaches to deliver affordable tuition to those who feel their careers must remain limited to simply fun and frivolity.

Getting better at something whilst having fun is key to sustainable participation and a potentially life-long relationship with a sport. Physical health, friendships, mental well-being, environmental awareness – golf has so much to offer, and must now ‘putt it’s money where its mouth is’ and demonstrate its commitment to making all feel welcome.

Of course, this is within golf’s own interests too.

Those who consider themselves golfers are more likely to spend on playing golf and purchasing equipment. Only 13% of infrequent golfers intend to increase their yearly spending on golf equipment compared to 55% of regular golfers.

Converting the ‘casual’ to the ‘consistent’ presents a win-win opportunity for all those in the golf industry.

Future champions

A final consideration must go to the UK’s future playing pool and the strength in depth of junior golfers hoping to carve out a career in the professional game.

Parental influence has been shown to have a significant influence (positive and negative) on the uptake of sport among their children, and for ensuring continued engagement thereafter.

The diversification and inclusivity challenges highlighted in this report should also hammer home that future successes on golf’s biggest stages will become increasingly likely with bigger talent pools.

A positive experience for casual golfers today can be a positive influence on competitive golfers tomorrow, and we can all recognize the value of winning when it comes to inspiring a nation.

The relatable achievements of Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu are a testament to this as demonstrated by the surge in tennis participation reported by the Lawn Tennis Association.

British golf must too strive to capitalize on the global success of its stars, however infrequently they may occur.

A sole British victory in women’s Major history over the last ten years (Georgia Hall at the 2018 British Open), perhaps best exemplifies how the participation gender gap is a significant barrier to sustained success on the world stage.

Could Georgia Hall win a second Women's Open?

The men’s game has little more to write home about with five triumphs in the same period of time and Rory McIlroy’s last Major win now almost a decade ago.

And with every decade that passes, data shows that the projected population growth of people from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups rises exponentially, set to hit 30% of the population by 2031.

Not acting now to safeguard a healthy future for golf would go down as a three-putt of epic proportions. This is a birdie putt that simply can’t be missed.

Not only would it lead to a stall in new audience engagement, but it would invariably reduce diversification within the sport further as the UK population demographics evolve.

The appetite for golf has arguably never been greater, and the PGA must now turn excitement into action and ensure all stakeholders in the game are singing from the same ‘Golf for All’ hymn sheet.  

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About the author

Ross Tugwood is a Golf Equipment Writer for Today's Golfer.

Ross Tugwood
Golf Equipment Writer

Ross Tugwood is a golf equipment writer for, specializing in data, analytics, science, and innovation. He’s also an expert in golf apparel and has a keen interest in sustainability.

Ross is passionate about optimizing sports performance and has a decade of experience working with professional athletes and coaches for British Athletics, the UK Sports Institute, and Team GB.

He has post-graduate degrees in Performance Analysis and Sports Journalism, enabling him to critically analyze and review the latest golf equipment and technology to help you make better-informed buying decisions.

Ross lives in Snowdonia National Park with his wife and 40 kg Bernese Mountain dog! He is a member of Porthmadog Golf Club with a handicap index of 13.8.

Away from golf, Ross enjoys hiking, trail running, and supporting the mighty Bristol Bears.

Ross uses a Cobra King SZ Speedzone driver, Titleist TSi2 3-Wood, TaylorMade Sim2 Rescue, Callaway Apex Pro irons (4-PW), Cleveland 588 RTX wedges (52°, 58°), TaylorMade Spider Ex putter, and a TaylorMade Tour Response golf ball.

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