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Golf is back on the upswing. The sport, which often struggles to attract younger players to its ranks, has rebounded in popularity during the pandemic.
Americans in search of socially-distant recreation packed the greens and links last year. The number of people who teed up for the first time hit a record 3m in 2020, according to the National Golf Foundation. In all, nearly 37m people played 502m rounds, a 14 per cent increase from the previous year. The gain is all the more eye-catching given that more than half of the country’s 16,000-plus courses were closed in the early months of the pandemic.
Vista Outdoor is betting these new players stick around. The sporting-goods company is buying golf-simulator maker Foresight Sports for $474m. Foresight makes high-tech products such as the $14,000 monitors that help golfers improve their swings. Technology is key to bringing new players to a game that can be seen as slow-going.
Across the increase in players last year, the biggest jump came from those who use places such as driving ranges or trendy venues such as Topgolf Entertainment. Callaway Golf acquired Topgolf — credited with “gamifying” the sometimes sedate golfing experience — for $2bn last year.
Rounds played are not the only indicator of growth in the golf industry. Equipment sales are also surging. The industry pulled in more than $2.8bn in revenues last year, making it the third best year on record, says Golf Datatech. Shares in Callaway have almost quadrupled from the pandemic lows. Those of rival Acushnet have more than doubled in value over the same period.
Millennials and Gen Z have no shortage of distractions that are cheaper and faster than a round of golf. There is also a risk that demand will dissipate as soon as offices reopen and normal life resumes. But with many companies expected to let their employees work from home for at least part of the week, flexibility could prompt golfers to pick up their clubs even more often.
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