Almost two-thirds of UK golfers are over 50

From the stigma of dress codes to draconian rules disguised as “tradition”, golf has long had a reputation as an “old man’s game”. If you turn on the TV though, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are only two players over 30 in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings. One is Dustin Johnson, who is described as a “veteran” at the age of 37; he was the oldest member of Team USA’s Ryder Cup team. The other, Rory McIlroy at only 32 years old. The average age of the top 10 is actually only 28 years old.

It’s a similar story on the LPGA Tour. Inbee Park, at just 33, is the oldest in the top 10 of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking and her average age is just 25.

As you watch more and more young wolves compete for major titles and ever bigger prize pools, while looking like they’re having fun along the way, it begs the question – has it- was it felt locally? In a recent survey by accounting firm Hillier Hopkins LLC, it found that for the second year in a row, memberships have increased. At first glance, this is of course positive. There are now 49% of clubs reporting more than 600 members, compared to 43% in 2020 and 38% in 2019. Developing the game, right? This does not seem to be the case.

Although the total number of members may have increased, the age demographic continues to be a concern. The survey found that nearly two-thirds of members are over 50, with one-third over 61. Age aside, it also revealed that three quarters of the members were male.

While the Hillier Hopkins survey suggests an aging membership population, this does not necessarily reflect the game of golf. In May 2021, the R&A published its attendance report which revealed that, despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, attendance was on the rise. He reported that 5.7 million people played golf in one form or another in 2020, up from 2.3 million in 2019. Women’s participation has also increased, with 25% of all new golf players being female. It also revealed that the majority of new golfers in the UK are under 55, with the average age dropping by five years from 46 to 41. Golf clubs are now faced with the task of attracting newcomers to the game to its membership programs, which is key to long-term success.

After all, golf is a game for all ages. Tom Watson came close to winning the Open Championship at the age of 59 and, better still, he played with 16-year-old Matteo Manassero, then amateur champion, for the first two rounds. Jordan Spieth won the 2013 John Deere Classic aged just 19, becoming the first teenager since 1931 to win on the PGA Tour. Lydia Ko was the youngest of either gender to reach the top of the world rankings, at just 17 years old. Golf clubs need to find a way to attract young people to the game, and quickly.

Learn more about the Hillier Hopkins investigation:

Michael C. Ford