For many golf enthusiasts, green grass golf is as good as it gets: the setting, the immersion, the unique challenges, the unpredictability. For millions of others, however, enjoying golf means something quite different. Thanks to many factors, off-course golf is attracting a new wave of fans, blending time-honored skills and new-age entertainment in exciting, accessible ways.
But what is off-course golf? Why is it so popular? And what can golf course operators do to adapt to the future of golf as the game expands beyond the confines of the course?
- What is off-course golf?
- How popular is off-course golf?
- Why is off-course golf so popular?
- How off-course golf presents opportunities for golf courses
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What is off-course golf?
Off-course golf can be defined as any golf-related activity that happens off of a traditional 18-hole, 9-hole or par-3 golf course layout. From hitting balls on the driving range and swinging in an indoor golf simulator to playing mini-golf, off-course golf takes the skills unique to the game and tests them in alternative formats. Some examples of off-course golf are:
|Modern, high-tech ranges with automated teeing systems and digital tracking technology, offering detailed feedback on each shot
|Indoor setups where players hit balls into a large screen that simulates real golf courses, with technology to analyze swing and ball flight
|Miniature Golf or Adventure Golf
|A scaled-down version of golf focusing more on putting, often designed with creative themes and obstacles
|Video games or applications that simulate the golf experience, used for entertainment or skill improvement
|Topgolf and Similar Venues
|Entertainment complexes combining golfing with amenities like food, drinks, and social spaces, attracting golfers and non-golfers
How popular is off-course golf?
It’s no secret that the pandemic led to a wave of new golfers worldwide, but it would be a mistake to characterize golf’s surge in popularity as strictly an on-course phenomenon. Thanks in part to driving range entertainment venues like Topgolf and Drive Shack, as well as the growing commercial accessibility of golf ball and club tracking technology, there are more ways to enjoy golf than ever.
The numbers reflect this new reality:
- According to a report by the National Golf Foundation (NGF), the number of total US off-course golf participants (32.9 million) surpassed total on-course golf participants (26.6 million) in 2023.
- The number of Americans participating in only off-course golf grew 19% from 2022
- The NGF also reports that the amount of Americans participating in simulator golf has grown 73% since 2019
- 65% of golfers surveyed by the NGF say they played some form of the game away from the course before starting on-course golf
- The Professional Golfers’ Association reports that, of the 16.3 million golfers across the UK and Ireland, 11.4 million are exclusively off-course golfers
Why is off-course golf so popular?
The popularity of off-course golf is a welcome trend, but it’s also an unsurprising one: The charm of venues like mini-golf, adventure golf and driving ranges has persisted over the years. Combining the core appeal of these club and ball activities with innovative technology and other forms of entertainment has only added to the popularity of the off-course game.
But what are the other factors motivating consumers to try golf in these non-traditional settings?
Here are four factors that explain the growing appeal of the off-course game and why it’s so important to the future of golf.
1. It’s often less expensive than on-course golf
The growing cost of golf is a barrier to entry for many: Most people aren’t willing to spend money on the sets of clubs, accessories, tee times and lessons that come with playing regularly. Conversely, casually engaging in off-course golf doesn’t come with the same financial commitment.
It’s far easier for those on golf’s periphery to commit to a night of socializing, watching sports and hitting the occasional shot at Topgolf or Drive Shack than it is to spending hundreds of dollars on everything that goes into even playing the occasional round of golf.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t affordable tee times available. But on the whole, off-course golf activities are ideal for customers who are looking to try their hand at the game, without feeling like they need to spend a significant amount of money to get the most out of the experience.
2. It can be less intimidating and less exclusive
There are thousands in the industry who are actively working to make golf more open and accessible. Look no further than organizations like The First Tee, Women’s Golf Day, Make Golf Your Thing and The National Links Trust. What’s more, on-course participation is trending positively among key demographic groups.
Despite all this, golf is still battling an image problem:
- Golf is largely seen as a sport played by well-off white men. To an extent, the data backs this up: According to the NGF’s 2023 Graffis Report, of the 13.2 million on-course golf participants in the USA, 72% were men, 78% were Caucasian, and 54% were financially comfortable
- On-course golf is an extremely challenging sport with a great many rules and unspoken traditions. This can act as a deterrent to beginners who see the game as intimidating, exclusive and hard to understand
- Finally, many people who try the game feel like they aren’t good enough to be considered ‘real’’ golfers, so they are put off by it
While the industry should try (and is trying) to change these narratives, it’s misleading to think that on-course golf is capable of winning everyone over. The benefit of off-course golf is that it offers much of what makes golf great, in settings that appeal to different audiences.
The thrill that comes with hitting that one pure shot or holing an amazing putt is universal—why should it matter if it happens at Topgolf, mini-putt or on the golf course? What matters more is whether the experience is positive enough to keep customers coming back to develop a relationship with the game.
Dive into the numbers:
According to the NGF, Topgolf’s laid-back, non-intimidating atmosphere led 75% of golf newcomers to indicate the experience helped them realize they could be comfortable at a golf course.
3. Time and commitment level
One of the downsides of golf’s upswing in popularity is pace of play. There’s no way around it: packing tee sheets with golfers of varying experience levels and skill sets results in slower rounds and disgruntled players. So while an average round should fall somewhere between 3 and 4 hours, the reality is much different, especially during peak season.
When you combine 4+ hour rounds, walking somewhere between 4-6 miles and the difficulty, it’s no surprise that newcomers can be turned off by the time, effort and commitment required to play a full round of golf. It’s just not for everyone.
This is where off-course golf is a perfect option for those looking to try golf without having to commit to everything the on-course game demands. The best part? Experimenting with the game in off-course settings can get people hooked. The more positive reinforcement they get at the range, in the simulator or at Drive Shack, the more likely they are test their skills on the course.
Dive into the numbers:
New golfers who have tried off-course golf are 5-6x more likely to try green grass golf
4. It’s less formal
Off-course golf is an informal activity focused on socializing and having fun. From Topgolf’s bright lights, blaring music and bar-like atmosphere to the laid-back nature of golf simulator swing bays and mini-putt courses, off-course golf creates a space to take the game less seriously.
How off-course golf presents opportunities for golf courses
It may be difficult for traditionalists to hear, but off-course golf holds significant appeal for a wider audience. While millions of people have an interest in trying golf, only a certain subset of them will want to commit to the time, cost and relative difficulty of the on-course game.
But rather than see this as any sort of threat, golf course operators should embrace this change. From simulator bays and putting courses to an enhanced driving range experience, the growing interest in off-course golf presents facilities with the opportunity to scale their operations and add new services that all golfers will love.
Add golf simulator bays to your facility
Simulator golf has exploded in popularity in recent years as the technology has become more widely available in commercial settings. From its use at Topgolf to private bays that are perfect for solo practice and corporate events, simulator technology like Trackman, Foresight and Full Swing is everywhere.
The addition of golf simulators presents golf courses with a great opportunity to strengthen their service offering, adapt to the future of golf, drive additional revenue and offer golfers a comfortable environment to swing any time of year.
It’s worth noting that this technology is a significant investment, especially if you want to create an immersive experience for customers. Setting up dedicated swing bays takes time, money, space and a lot of calibration to get right.
Check out our blog on where to start with golf simulator technology at your course.
Dive into the numbers:
According to the NGF, of the approximately 6.3 million Americans using golf simulators, more than half (53%) don’t play traditional on-course golf
Enhance your driving range experience
The driving range is appealing for both golf enthusiasts and those simply looking to swing away. While many golf courses view the range as a way for players to warm up before their rounds, there is a major opportunity to build out the practice center, add amenities and make it into its own entertainment-focused, revenue-generating tool.
Check out our blog on how to create an incredible driving range experience here.
Get the right booking and scheduling software
Adding more off-course golf services shouldn’t hamper your staff or operations. While using an online booking system for tee times is a standard in the industry, many courses rely on workarounds and third-party solutions to manage bookings for additional services.
As you look to add things like golf simulators, driving range bookings, putting courses, as well as golf lessons and club fittings, choose golf management software with advanced, integrated scheduling tools. The right software should be able to help you:
- Take and manage bookings for all services with one integrated platform
- Allow golfers to book any service, anytime from your website
- Create an easy, intuitive experience for staff
- Create and customize all your service calendars to meet your course’s needs
- Generate easy reports and analytics to understand the impact of additional services on your bottom line
Off-course golf creates an exciting, open future for the game
As off-course club and ball activities continue to gain more appeal, the future of golf will look much different. But this isn’t a bad thing. The more golf formats there are, the more people will be able to develop a unique love of the game.
Looking to scale your facility and embrace off-course golf services? Working with the right technology partner is key to help you learn, strategize and execute.
At Lightspeed, we’re committed to serving ambitious golf courses who want to succeed and thrive—now and in the future. Speak to one of our experts today to learn more about how Lightspeed can help you level up your golf facility.
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