Golf Course Equipment Trends Emerging From the Sport’s Revival

|Jul 26, 2021

To paraphrase a quote from Mark Twain, “The report of golf’s death is greatly exaggerated.” The recent and strong resurgence of golf has led to record-breaking demand for everything from golf clubs and balls on the player side to golf cars and golf course maintenance equipment on the golf course side, not to mention creative solutions for golf course equipment financing.

If you haven’t been paying close attention, the past year has seen one of the biggest revivals in the sport of golf in decades. Initially shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, golf rallied through the second half of 2020 with some amazing numbers. According to the National Golf Foundation’s Graffis Report, in the U.S. alone, there were 61 million more rounds of golf played in 2020 than in 2019 with:

  • A 23% increase in new golfers
  • A 25% increase in youth golfers
  • A half-million increase in female golfers
  • Nearly 300,000 new golfers of color

Internationally, golf saw a similar resurgence in 2020 despite the shutdowns caused by the pandemic. In the U.K., golf rounds increased by 12% compared to 2019. Half-way around the world, rounds in Australia, where the pandemic’s impact was less severe in the beginning, rounds were up nearly 20% compared to 2019.

That’s a pretty impressive comeback, especially if you consider golf course shutdowns due to COVID-19 significantly impacted play, charity and event rounds were almost non-existent and there’s been a seemingly steady 18% decline in golf rounds played over the past 15 years in the U.S. market. It would be easy to attribute the one-year resurgence in golf to the fact that it was one of the few competitive sporting activities considered safe during the pandemic. But that’s not the whole story.

In reality, COVID-19 may have just been the catalyst that led to an acceleration of recent regrowth of the game that was already happening. By 2019, U.S. golf participation had already bounced off its modern-day low point in 2016, with the game seeing a 2% growth in participants over those four years. The industry had already been making efforts to attract new golfers by simplifying rules, promoting youth golf and introducing a new casualness to the game that extended from attire to entertainment technologies, like Bluetooth-enabled carts and speakers, on the course.

Trends globally seem to project continued growth, with research showing new golfers in the U.K., for example, increasing by more than 2 million players in just a year, with a 25% growth in female participants and 16% of participants completely new to the sport. Research also shows that golf is attracting a coveted new generation of players in the U.K. with the average age of golfers there falling a significant 5 years to 41 years old.

COVID-19 really had an effect on the golf industry overnight. People turned to playing golf because it was one of the few things they could get outside and do. With rounds at all-time highs, courses were seeing a lot of overuse of equipment."

Demand for golf course equipment follows increase in rounds.

There’s no doubt, however, that the pandemic’s impact went beyond just accelerating changes that were already happening in the industry. With golf rounds at the highest levels since the late 1990s, courses themselves have had to adjust. One area where courses have had to make changes quickly is with equipment.

COVID-19 really had an effect on the golf industry overnight,” said Michael Pastirik, business development manager at DLL. “People turned to playing golf because it was one of the few things they could get outside and do. With rounds at all-time highs, courses were seeing a lot of overuse of equipment.”

Golf cars are one example. Not only are golf cars being more heavily used because of the sheer number of rounds being played, but health mandates often required courses to only allow single riders instead of doubling up. In order to keep golfers happy and playing, courses had to add to their fleets.

“We’ve had one course that previously had 50 cars and their new financing deal will be for 75 cars,” said Geoff Hoffman, senior business development manager at DLL. “Courses need more cars because players prefer to ride one to a car. So, we’re starting to see courses adding cars to their current deal. We also have customers who can’t wait to add an additional 15 cars to a new deal. So, dealers and distributors are needing a rental fleet. Showing them how rental fleet financing works, how you manage it and how you monitor it is new to many and is important to their successful growth.”

For many courses, the decision to buy or rent has been a difficult one. Whether the recent resurgence of golf will be a long-term trend, or if new players and the increase in rounds will slide back to pre-pandemic levels is still a question to be answered.

The question for golf courses: Buy or rent equipment?

While many courses have chosen rental options to help balance needs in the short term without committing to longer-term expenses, technology is allowing new options to emerge. For example, a leading technology addition to Club Car’s lineup of golf cars, Club Car Connect, not only enhances the game for golfers by allowing them to view holes, gauge yardage, see pin placements and listen to music via Bluetooth, the technology also allows usage monitoring so course management can measure the precise usage of each car.

“Use of each golf car is becoming much more measurable,” said Pastirik. “That’s a trend that doesn’t necessarily affect the golfer. However, for golf courses, different payment models are going to emerge that look different from a standard loan or lease. For example, instead of a traditional loan or lease, courses may only pay based on how much each car is used. Pay-per-use is something that’s evolving fairly rapidly, as far as how our customers pay for the product. We’re trying to make options like that a reality in the near future.”

Furthermore, the shift to more sustainable equipment, like the move from lead acid batteries to lithium batteries with longer battery life, gives golf cars a longer usable life. “It just changes the dynamics,” said Pastirik. “You see equipment in service longer — instead of four years, they’ll go maybe eight years, going from the original buyer to user B and user C on the used market.”

Use of each golf car is becoming much more measurable. That’s a trend that doesn’t necessarily affect the golfer. However, for golf courses, different payment models are going to emerge that look different from a standard loan or lease."

Golf course maintenance equipment upgrades are driven by manufacturers and consumer demand.

But equipment trends aren’t only being affected by the increase in rounds played and the number of new golfers joining the sport. A tight labor force is encouraging both golf course superintendents and turf managers outside of golf to start looking at autonomous golf course maintenance equipment that requires less labor.

The movement toward sustainability is also encouraging equipment buyers to start looking at more electric-powered maintenance equipment. While these trends are moving more slowly than those driven by golf car buyers, they still will likely change the purchasing decisions buyers are making over the next few years.

“Many of the technology changes on maintenance equipment are being driven by the manufacturer, not the end users,” said Pastirik. “Superintendents and turf managers want to see if, for example, autonomous equipment works successfully. They want to be really comfortable about it before changing because the worst thing they can possibly do is have something damage the golf course itself. So, I think we’ll see a little slower adoption there, but owners and operators of golf courses and recreational facilities definitely are watching and think some of the new technologies are a good idea.”

Golf equipment financing requires creativity.

All of the changing equipment trends in the golf and turf industry require creativity, forward thinking and nimbleness. Often, that starts with golf course financing options. Golf course and recreation facility managers are feeling the pressure to move more quickly. Low inventories of equipment due to production-labor and supply-chain issues around the globe are pulling decision timelines for new purchases forward so equipment can find its way to golf courses and recreation facilities when it is needed.

“This industry is still a fairly traditional, paper-based one when it comes to transactions,” said Pastirik. “But we’re moving quickly to change that because timelines and turnaround times are going to continue to decrease rapidly. COVID-19 definitely pushed things in that direction and that’s probably not going to change. Where we often saw a standard 48-month lease program, with all of the changes, we’re seeing customers rolling off in 30 months or 24 months — partly because of the high use and partly because of technology advances and upgraded features on the products.”

“When it comes down to it, it’s about a partnership,” said Pastirik. “You have to have the ability and willingness to work through structures and work through changes to documentation to make things work. Not everyone is willing to do that. If there’s a way to get a deal done, we’re going to do everything we can to work through things and get it done.”

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