Why golf tour operators are set to thrive


We think that everybody would take a long, hard swing at COVID-19 if they were given the opportunity. While this might not be possible to do so with a virus, many people around the world have been heading to golf courses to smash out their frustrations with a club and ball. Similar to other sectors in the way that they were hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the golf tourism industry has been showing positive signs of rebound and popularity as we head into the later half of 2021. 

Estimated to grow by $5.36 billion between 2020 – 2024, the global golf tourism market is far from over. While many sports were forced to close their doors due to the coronavirus, golf matches are still taking place and so too is golf travel. Very telling is the fact that most golf travellers were reluctant to cancel their trips when COVID-19 took hold, with many simply postponing their interest to upcoming years. Positively, with a new online golf marketplace exclusively for this special niche popping up, and 98% of golf courses in the USA now open it looks like this type of travel is set to rebound sooner rather than late. 

It’s fair to say this niche segment of the global travel industry is most certainly punching above its weight, and a global pandemic doesn’t seem to have knocked it off it’s trajectory either. In this blog we’re taking a deep dive into golf travel. Continue reading to understand how this billion dollar industry operates, why it’s proving to be so resilient amidst a worldwide pandemic, and how your tour operator business can get involved.

Golf tour operator

Popularity is catching 

There have been murmurs within the golf community and the travel industry that the popularity of golf has been on the rise, with some coining it the “COVID-19 generation of golfers.” As we know, statistics don’t lie and this makes us confident that coronavirus isn’t the only bug that people are catching in the new decade. 

With Google search results showing that the term ‘golf courses’ was up 40% year on year in May 2020, the allure of golf is proving more powerful by the year. With 55% of non-golfers having neutral or positive things to say about the sport in 2020, as opposed to 43% in 2013, it is no wonder that social media has also experienced a surge on the topic. Finding that golf-related ad campaigns have become more relevant to individuals since the outbreak of coronavirus, 1-2-1-Marketing believes that a large chunk of this increased popularity comes from previously casual golfers investing more time and interest into golf. 

Not surprisingly, professional athletes have also been switching over to golf to get their sporting fix as many of their specialised sports were put on hold temporarily (or in some cases, long term) because of the pandemic. 

A younger generation of golfers has also emerged as they channel their energy into a new sport. In fact, with a 20% increase in the number of junior golfers since 2020, it’s ability to break into new demographics and markets puts golf in a great position for the future. While some may think that the younger generations’ interest in golf is fleeting, they have led the charge when it comes to financially investing in the sport and purchasing new golf equipment

Dedicated sportsmen and women

While new golf enthusiasts have breathed life into the sport, long time golfers are more dedicated than ever. Plus, they are growing increasingly interested in golf tourism. The National Golf Foundation in the United States of America surveyed golfers and found out that almost a third are willing to road trip more than eight hours (one way) to indulge in a golf getaway, while 76% would travel more than four hours. 

Broadcasting of professional golf 

Fuelling enthusiasm for golf and golf tourism, alike, was the fast return of professional play. Broadcasted for much of the world to see, events such as the PGA TOUR playoffs and U.S Open, have been encouraging recreational golfers to get out and play. Despite lacking a real-life audience, the tournaments were a great hit with new and old golfers, and were used as a test run to see if other sports could return to professional play.  

Tying into the idea of live sport, is betting. The fact that the PGA Tour’s debut event, the Charles Schwab Challenge, after lockdown was the most bet on tour event in DraftKings history, speaks volumes to the investment that golfers have in their sport. 

An industry that supports each other 

We may have just run through the many reasons why golf as a sport is forecast to grow and remain popular, but the resilient and supportive nature of the golf tourism community is a major reason why golf tour operators will thrive over the coming years. 

Wanting to make sure that golf tour operators weather the storm today, Ireland’s annual Golf Convention was held virtually this year. Hoping to encourage suppliers and tours operators to buy into the idea of promoting golf vacations, the convention saw over 104 tour operators from around the world virtually meet with 110 Irish golf tourism businesses to stimulate future golf travel. In the same breath, governments are getting on board with promoting golf tourism as a thriving niche market and have been allocating more investment into the development of golf related infrastructure. Additional support has also come to golf tour operators in the way of free membership to IAGTO, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. Packaging together helpful resources and advice for these businesses, big organisations such as IAGTO are fuelling their success.

golf tourism during COVID-19

Golf tourism has a lot going for it when it comes to containing and slowing the spread of COVID-19, and this solidifies its ability to thrive through adversity. Asked to rank a range of activities based on the level of transmission risk, experts in Michigan rated the sport of golf as 31 out of 36 (36 being the least likely to fuel the spread of COVID-19) because of a few defining factors listed below. 

Social distancing

Covering a vast area of space, golf courses are the ultimate playground for social distancing. Not only can golfers zoom around in their own private golf carts, but tee times can be managed in a way that only one bubble occupies an area at any given time. Positively, this mentality and practise isn’t much different to golfing pre COVID-19 day when most players stuck to their bubbles or small groups anyway.  

To eliminate any potential spread of disease, golf courses have implemented measures to reduce the amount of touchpoints during a golfer’s play. For instance, in Ohio the golf courses have inserted foam pool noodles into the hole (in place of flagsticks) so that individuals don’t have to reach down into it to retrieve the ball. Sand trap rakes have also been removed in most instances.

Non-contact sport

For individuals that have been cooped up indoors due to continuous lockdown periods, golf offers a unique opportunity to get outside and participate in a non-contact sport, removing the need for physical interactions. Medical professionals have time and time again communicated the importance of exercise during the course of the pandemic, mentioning that exercise “does improve mood, wellness … [and] sleep. It has also been shown to improve or decrease anxiety.” Helping to reduce stress levels among individuals, golf travel is a mood lightener during these unprecedented times. 

Not only is golf a non-contact sport but it is also considered to be one where the risk of injury is moderate – a great plus when the time of emergency service workers is greatly needed elsewhere. To add to this, it is also said that an 18 hole golf course is equivalent to walking 5 miles or 8 kilometres. Great for exercise purposes, this is especially relevant now to golfers who do not own their golf carts (usually renting one) and are having to walk a lot further to finish their games. 

Outdoor activity

In countries where resurgences of coronavirus have been rampant, the outdoors is a true escape from their own homes. The power of fresh air and open spaces have without a doubt been appreciated over the past 12 months. And this couldn’t be more true for golfers who have, in many countries, been allowed to continue play despite strict lockdown restrictions. 

A good example of this is in England where they have been yo-yoing in and out of Tier 4 (the second top level) lockdown restrictions, yet golfers have still been able to take to the course in confined bubbles. While many recreational activities are off the cards, golf is seen as a good chance to get outside during these uncertain times.

How to grow your golf travel business

While lockdown periods and waves of infection have plagued many parts of the tourism industry, the sector has been getting inventive to seize any pocket of opportunity for revenue potential that might come out of COVID-19. Hoping to capitalise on the often wealthy coffers of golfers, the Thai government has put forward golf resorts as the perfect way to spend mandatory quarantine upon entry to Thailand. Rather than spending two weeks isolated in a standard hotel room, Thailand is looking to entice visitors to be long staying visitors in their country by giving them free reign of golf resorts and their golf courses during quarantine. Yet to be approved, the Thai Tourism Minister sees golf as their key to rejuvenating the country’s greatly affected tourism industry. 

Tour operators both already in the golf niche, or those looking to enter it have a lot to be excited about. As one of the fastest growing travel niche’s, some of the world’s best tour operator software providers like Tourwriter are working hard to make it easier for this growing niche to continue to thrive. The launch of our online marketplace golftravel.shop is designed to help avid golf travellers easily find, connect and book with top golf tour operators.

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