What has been happening in the golf driving range sector
The financial performance of driving ranges is closely linked to the popularity of golf. Increased television coverage helped broaden awareness of golf and the sport's appeal in the UK was boosted through the first half of the 2000s by the emergence and success of young professional players. However, since the mid 2000s the popularity of golf has been declining, a trend that was accelerated by the economic downturn at the end of the 2000s and early 2010s which saw many people significantly cut their spending on leisure activities.
The improvement in the economy from the middle of 2013 until the middle of 2015 did not result in an increase in popularity of the game and unfortunately the recovery slowed in the second half of 2015 and into 2016. Further economic uncertainty followed the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU. The continuing uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations, higher inflation, weakening growth of real wages and the loss of consumer confidence in the economy led to consumers reining in their expenditure during 2017 and little change is expected for 2018 and 2019. It is likely that expenditure on non-essentials, like visits to a driving range, will be reduced until the economy picks up.
The golf industry has also acknowledged that the game has an image problem that puts some people off from trying it. Nevertheless, despite the recent decline, golf remains a high profile sport with a large number of participants and the industry is also actively trying to reverse the downward trend in the number of golfers, in particular by attracting more women and young people.
Due to the complicated nature of the golf swing and its tendency to desert the average golfer, there will be a demand for practice facilities as long as people continue to play golf. Golf driving ranges are inexpensive to use and the golfer need not even own a set of clubs as most ranges offer club hire. The ranges that will succeed in the future are those that maximise the potential of their catchment area and provide value-for-money services that will appeal to golfers of all levels. There may also be scope in certain areas to market the range to stag and hen parties and other groups - such as holidaymakers - wanting a one-off leisure activity.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association can be an excellent way of keeping up to date with developments in your sector. Commercial golf facilities in the UK are represented by:
- the Organisation of Golf Range Operators (OGRO). OGRO publishes GRN-OGRO, a monthly trade magazine that is delivered free to all golf ranges, centres and clubs in the UK. The OGRO also publishes the 'Golf Range Study' into golf range users and usage, the 'Best Practice Guide to Practice Facilities', and 'Golf Range - a Design Guide'
- the UK Golf Federation, which is the representative body for commercially minded golf facilities
Golf Range Finder is an online directory of golf ranges in the UK. A standard listing is free of charge and a premium listing is £20. (Members of the OGRO are entitled to a premium listing as part of their membership.)
The OGRO and the UK Golf Federation jointly run the annual Golf Business Industry Convention (GolfBIC). Visit their websites for more information.