Golf is a sport played by more than 24 million Americans and enjoyed as a favorite spectator activity by millions more. But it is far more than a game: golf is a leading U.S. industry that makes a wide variety of positive contributions to society. 76 percent of golf facilities are open to the public. Approximately 8 of 10 golfers play on public courses.
Turfgrass comprises 60+ million acres; 4th largest crop in the U.S. Turf is horticulture’s most omnipresent crop worldwide. The 2 million acres on our nation’s golf courses provide golfers with playing surfaces that promote health and well-being while serving as important green spaces in communities.
GCSAA’s First Green program is an innovative environmental and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education outreach program using golf courses as environmental learning labs. Golf Course Superintendents and/or local golf course representatives host students on field trips where they test water quality, collect soil samples, identify plants, design plantings, assist in stream bed restoration and are involved in the ecology and environmental aspects of the golf course.
In 2016, the golf industry released new health and wellness data. A regular game of golf is likely to increase life expectancy and lead to better physical health, according to University of Edinburgh researchers. The review of 5,000 studies on golf and wellbeing found physical benefits increased with the player's age. The study is part of the Golf and Health Project, which is led by the World Golf Foundation. Walking 18 holes is equal to a 5-mile walk or 3.5-to-4-mile run. Playing golf and walking 18 holes can burn up to 2,000 calories. Golfers exceed 10,000 steps in a typical round of golf, meeting the recommended guidelines for daily exercise.
Most golf facilities in the U.S. qualify as small businesses according to the Small Business Administration. The golf facility size standard to be qualified as a small business is $15 million in average annual receipts. Unfortunately, golf has been excluded from receiving benefits from several prominent pieces of federal legislation including relief for the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, relief to victims of natural disasters across the country in 2008 and 2009, and in 2009 with the federal economic stimulus bill. Continued exclusion of the golf industry – a major generator of jobs and tax revenue across the country – from relief and stimulus measures being considered by Congress is a serious challenge facing the industry.
An additional challenge to many golf facilities in urban areas relates to land use, development pressures, and land appraisals that often simply consider “highest and best use” of a property. Policies seeking to convert golf courses to residential and commercial developments often don’t account for the environmental benefits golf courses bring to communities, including storm water runoff and catch basins, carbon sequestration and heat reducing characteristics, wildlife corridors, and pollinator habitat. Of particular concern was a bill considered by the California legislature in 2021 and 2022 that would have provided state funding to local governments as an incentive to convert municipal golf course properties into high density developments.
Collectively golf is big business, but as an industry comprised mostly of small businesses, its longevity and sustainability are sensitive like other industries to the uncertainty of economic conditions and impacts of unnecessary regulation. Many individual golf facilities often operate on small profit margins.
The game of golf was a crucial outlet for the public during a global health pandemic. Where allowed, golf proved to be a reliable refuge for those seeking fresh air and recreation in a socially distant manner. GCSAA and the golf industry served as a reliable partner at all levels of government to respond to COVID-19 and will continue to do so for any future pandemics.
Make Golf Your Thing is a collaborative effort across the industry to ensure the sport is welcome to all. This multi-faceted, multi-year diversity, equity and inclusion movement works to invite more people to golf from all backgrounds. Six cross-industry work groups are committed to making the sport more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, with a specific focus on education & skill development, talent acquisition, procurement, human resources, youth & adult player development, and marketing/communications. Learn more at www.makegolfyourthing.org.
On Sept. 19, 2022, GCSAA and the EPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging a commitment to environmental stewardship and environmental sustainability on golf courses. The MOU enhances the joint commitment to share information on environmental issues, best practices and industry challenges to promote best management practices on golf properties to protect and enhance the environment.
Specific value of golf sub issues include:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)