The number of golfers in the United States went down from 2014 to 2015, dropping from 24.7 million in 2014 to 24.1 million in 2015, according to data released by the National Golf Federation.
That drop comes amid several pieces of recent good news for the sport.
For one, total rounds played in the United States ticked up 1.4 percent from 2014 to 2015, representing a rare-these-days increase.
In addition, 2.2 million Americans ages 6 and older took up golfer in 2015. That's a substantial increase from the record-low figure of 1.5 million beginners in 2011. That number is largely fueled by a sharp increase in the number of juniors participating in leagues and other programs.
Unfortunately, however, the folks that are coming into the game aren't sticking around for long, the people that have been playing for longer are walking away, or, worst of all possible outcomes, both things are happening.
National Golf Federation chief Joe Beditz believes -- and we agree -- that the sport isn't welcoming to beginners in terms of both customs and infrastructure.
“Golf needs to be more beginner-friendly,” Beditz told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s like we’re running a gas station. ‘Come or don’t come. Here’s the price.’”
While more and more courses are recognizing that the culture of the game and the learning curve to simply get on a golf course are intimidating, there are thousands more which seem unwilling to welcome new and curious players with open arms. The usual villains -- difficulty, time and money -- apply, but creating spaces where beginners can learn the game, have fun and get encouraged to delve deeper into the game are absolutely important to the future of the sport.
That is where the likes of Top Golf, which attracts in upwards of millions of non-golfers every year, is an important part of the process of converting the curious golfers into fanatical golfers. However, there also needs to be more par-3 and executive courses -- some of the first facilities to go amid the financial crash and Great Recession in 2008 -- that can prove as places to learn how to play golf on a course, get used to culture and more. They need to be the Petri dish in which the sport cultivates its future.
For more, listen to our podcast, "The 19th Hole Golf Show," on the importance of par-3 courses.