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In Australia, golf produces $3.3 billion in total annual benefits in three distinct groups: economic, social and environmental.

Golf is big. Golf is different. That’s always been the case. But in 2024, golf is changing – for the best.

Although seemingly quite bold, these separate – but intertwined – statements on the game in Australia have been proven true by the recently released Community Benefits of Golf in Australia report. And that’s the case particularly when it comes to women and girls.

Commissioned by the Australian Golf Industry Council (AGIC), a group comprised of representatives from key stakeholders in the game, and conducted by SGS Economics & Planning, the report used a robust methodology and quantified data to produce detail on the wide-ranging, sizeable benefits of golf. And it’s come up with some very interesting reading.

The headline figure is that across our country, golf produces $3.3 billion in total annual benefits in three distinct groups: economic, social and environmental. The benefits are felt by players, the golf industry and the Australian public more broadly.

Golf’s growing numbers

As part of the report, a detailed look at who plays the game was developed.

If you think our courses, driving ranges, simulator venues and mini-golf courses are looking busy, you’re right. The report shows 2.2 million Australians played golf in the previous 12 months and a further 1.3 million engaged in off-course formats of the game at 1,603 places to play.

Those 3.5 million, all considered “golfers” under the Australian Golf Strategy’s “All golf is golf” mantra, are contributing to golf being big and getting bigger as one of the largest participation sports in Australia.

Despite remaining skewed towards male participation in terms of on-course golf, interestingly, women account for 53 percent of driving range, mini-golf and other alternative-format players. The alternate formats of the game are typically a first port of call for those interested in golf, with hopes future reports and research will see a significant number of these women move to on-course golf either at public facilities or as members of a club.

A positive shift in the key target area of growth was already revealed by the 12.6 percent increase in women and girls memberships outlined as part of Golf Australia’s Golf Participation Report for 2022-2023.

The increase in women and girls’ interest and active engagement with the sport forms part of the changing nature of golf in Australia, which is also seeing greater involvement across varied age groups. Greater participation from these segments and various other demographics are significant drivers in golf’s point of difference, many attracted to the game as a moderate-intensity form of exercise that can be highly social across the various formats.

The health benefits

If you think golf is a healthy sport to play, you’re right – even if it can be frustrating.

The Community Benefits of Golf in Australia report reveals that golf’s health benefits are highlighted by the distance walked during a round of golf, as well as the physical motions of swinging a club that improve mobility. These benefits total $423 million to players annually.

Known to improve the immune system and reduces risk factors such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, golf delivers many of its physical benefits through walking. Australian golfers walk 280 million kilometres annually, or the equivalent of 19.2 laps of Earth’s equator each day, and just more than 7,000 laps each year.

Research from the R&A shows that golfers live five years longer than non-golfers, and that golf can help prevent and treat 40 major chronic diseases, the game delivers significant mental health benefits.

Calculated at an annual figure of $439 million to players, mental-health benefits are derived from the physical exercise and social interaction that are synonymous with golf, all conducted in natural landscapes. Golfers have a subjective health and wellbeing score that is 7.1 percent higher than that of non-golfers.

“The health benefits of golf are well established, including reduced risk factors for several chronic illnesses,” says James Sutherland, chief executive of Golf Australia. “This report adds to other academic research with detailed findings on just how beneficial golf is to the Australian community.

“Golf is different and getting bigger. This data showcases its benefits, and we hope this continues to encourage more people to engage with our sport, experience our places to play and experience improved health and wellbeing.”

Golf’s other benefits

Beyond the benefits to the golfer, the report shows the impact of golf courses to their surrounding neighbourhoods valued at $149 million, including the premium placed on land near courses.

An annual environmental benefit of $890 million is created by golf, through water filtration and purification, flood and stormwater protection, carbon sequestration, urban cooling and significantly higher biodiversity than public parks.

A valuable asset to those running the game, the golf industry and beyond, the Community Benefits of Golf in Australia report also provides intriguing insights for those involved at club level and for the half of all Australian adults currently playing or interested in playing golf.

“The numbers outlined in this report will perhaps surprise, but they are undeniable. My hope is they will go a long way to changing the perception of golf,” said Karen Lunn, chair of the AGIC and chief executive of the WPGA Tour of Australasia.

“We now have the evidence to inform decision makers and strengthen partnerships so that together golf can continue to build on the social fabric of a healthy and connected Australia. Golf is big, it’s different and it’s changing.” 

The Australian Golf Industry Council (AGIC) was established in 2006 as a group comprising the key national bodies of the golf industry in Australia, designed to work together for the common good of the game and the industry. The full Community Benefits of Golf in Australia report is available at bernardbodo, hanzl, monkeybusinessimages, petrenkod