The number of golfers in Europe has declined after more than 20 years of growth, a new survey by KPMG has revealed.
There was a net loss of 46,000 registered golfers in 2011, with the UK & Ireland -42,700 (-3.1%), Sweden -21,000 (-4.1%) and Spain -9,700 (-2.9%) recording the most significant reductions in player numbers.
The Golf Participation in Europe 2011 survey - produced by KPMG's Golf Advisory Practice and free to download from www.golfbusinesscommunity.com - recorded a small increase in the total number of courses in Europe last year (up 0.7% to 6,740), while the number of participants fell below 4.4 million (-1%).
The downturn in golf participation follows a 25-year period of impressive growth - the number of golfers has more than tripled since the 1980s, while the number of golf courses has doubled in the same period.
Andrea Sartori, head of KPMG's Golf Advisory Practice in EMA, said: "While the growth of golf started to slow down after 2005, last year was the first time there was an actual decrease in registered golfers. The decline can be attributed to two factors: the reduction in the number of golfers in some of Europe's largest golf markets, especially the UK and Ireland, and the lack of dynamic growth in Europe's emerging markets, specifically Eastern Europe and the South-East Mediterranean."
While the number of officially recognized participants in the UK and Ireland fell to 1,326,700, still more than double the size of Europe's second largest golf market, Germany (610,100), Sartori pointed out that golfers in the UK and Ireland don't have to be registered, unlike most European countries, so the decline could be attributed in part to players giving up club memberships, while continuing to play on a daily fee basis.
However, feedback from the survey also suggests golf courses across Europe are failing to respond appropriately to the challenging economic conditions, and may belosing customers as a result.
"Golf clubs need to proactively and effectively face up to the challenging economic climate to retain members or attract new golfers," continued Andrea Sartori. "Based on our survey, rather than introducing youth and family programs, and promotional packages, approximately 30-40% of Europe's operators and club managers actually increased prices in 2011. More than half of clubs have not invested in enhanced marketing - and many have not yet capitalized on the opportunities provided by online marketing and social media."
Some of the reduced participation was counterbalanced by countries that experienced growth, including Germany (+10,800), the Netherlands (+7,600), Finland (+4,600) and Eastern Europe's most established golf market, the Czech Republic (+3,500).
The survey highlighted that golf remains a male-dominated sport in Europe, with 65% of all players being male and 25% female (10% are juniors). German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) and the Netherlands, remain flagship markets for female participation, with more than 30% of golfers being women.
Some emerging markets are leading the way with junior programs. Although small in real terms, the high proportion of children among golfers in Turkey (52%) and Serbia (34%) may help to create future growth in these countries.
"While much of the golf market stagnation in Europe may be attributed to the overall economic climate, continued support and investment in new programs will be needed to sustain demand and generate further growth in the game, especially in mature and developed golf markets," added Andrea Sartori.
"Today, there is a need for joint efforts - arguably more so now than at any time in the past two decades. Therefore, we invite all industry stakeholders to share thoughts, best practices and creative ideas on www.golfbusinesscommunity.com."
To download the full report, please visit: www.golfbusinesscommunity.com