Why golf's latest participation numbers are actually better than they look (no, really)

February 01, 2019
2018 U.S. Women's Open

Jeff Haynes

Golf’s rounds played numbers were down for the second year in a row, but rather than seeing these reports as some sort of tragic clarion call, perhaps there’s a more logical, measured reaction.

Because, as a matter of statistical fact, there is. And it’s all Mother Nature’s fault.

Golf Datatech’s 2018 record of rounds played showed a 4.8 percent decline compared to 2017. That doesn’t seem like great news until you think beyond the current polar vortex to the weather much of the country experienced during the golf season. It was, in a word, wet. Or, specifically as it applies to golf, unplayable.

Put simply, while rounds were down in 2018, they weren't down as much as they should have been given the rather dramatic increase in precipitation in key parts of the country last year.

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Based on historical golf and weather data tracked by Weather Trends International, each one-inch increase in rain equates to a 2.2 percent decline in rounds played. WTI’s review of weather at the top 260 U.S. markets, precipitation was up 12.7 percent. In golf months, those numbers got quite severe regionally. In August, precipitation was up about 100 percent in the New England states and East North Central region, and more than 50 percent in the Mid-Atlantic. In September, those rain figures neared or exceeded 200-percent increases in the Mid-Atlantic, South Central and East North Central states. Of the 40 monthly regional precipitation reports from May through September tracked by Golf Datatech, 22 showed higher rainfall numbers than they did the year before.

Overall, according to official weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, rainfall in 2018 was up 2.3 inches from 2017. Based on WTI’s ratio, that would mean rounds played should have decreased 5.1 percent.

So checking our math again, that suggests rounds played actually bucked historic trends. We all played more golf than we usually play given the sloppy weather patterns. So towel off and pat yourself on the back.

In other news, the latest rain gear really works.