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The Demise and Rise of Golf

Companies and Markets

By Carmine DiCesare  |  April 21, 2021

Twenty-five years ago, the sport of golf saw booming levels of participation across the United States due to the “Tiger effect,” after Tiger Woods' 1996 PGA debut and electrifying performances in the years to follow. However, the popularity of golf was on the decline in the new millennium; between 2003 and 2018, golf saw a decline of over 6.8 million players and more than 1,200 course closures.

Hopes for a turnaround in the golfing industry were shattered in March of 2020 with the COVID-19 global pandemic. As most courses remained closed until late spring, rounds played in the first several months of 2020 declined sharply relative to 2019. National Golf Foundation and Golf Datatech data shows a March 2020 decline of 8.5% in rounds played compared to March 2019; in April 2020, rounds played were down a staggering 42.2% compared to April 2019. However, as quarantine restrictions eased and temperatures warmed throughout the U.S., golfers used local clubs and courses as their “safe escape” from the pandemic in the second half of 2020. November 2020 rounds were up 56.5% compared to November 2019; for all of 2020, play increased 13.9% compared to 2019.

The numbers cited above correlate directly with the price performance of companies in the industry, as shown in the chart below. Additionally, the 2021 golf season is already off to a hot start, with reported rounds played in January up 21.4% year-over-year, an impressive spike relative to pre-pandemic levels. As many expect the boom in golf to continue, let’s examine companies with exposure to the sport.

Golf Companies Performance Relative to the S&P 500

Equipment and Retailers

They say the clubs don’t make the player, but everyone needs a set of clubs to play golf. Based on data from Golf Datatech, equipment producers saw 2020 sales totaling $2.81 billion for the year, a 10.1% increase compared to 2019. Last year’s sales were just shy of the 2007 ($2.87 billion) and 2008 ($2.91 billion) records, emphasizing the impact the pandemic has had on golf. July alone smashed the single-month retail sales record at $388.63 million. There are a few key players in this space.

While the name Acushnet Holdings Corp. may not ring a bell, this company is directly responsible for the design, development, manufacturing, and distribution of one of the most well-known golf brands across the world: Titleist. Titleist products include apparel, footwear, clubs, golf balls, bags, and more. Aside from the Titleist brand, Acushnet also owns several other premium golf apparel and equipment companies such as FootJoy, Vokey Design, Scott Cameron, and Pinnacle.

Another extremely popular brand amongst golfers is Callaway Golf Company. Callaway and Titleist, along with Acushnet’s and Titleist’s sister brands, compete in very similar verticals. Callaway has fared well against the competition while also building and acquiring other entities along the way. Popular brands like Odyssey and Travis Matthews have fueled the company’s growth, allowing the manufacturer to remain competitive in an ever-growing and crowded market.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet anticipate continued growth for both equipment producers, as new golfers join the game and returning players continue with additional purchases and upgrades. Individual product segments such as golf apparel, balls, and clubs are all expected to grow in the low to mid-teens for both companies in fiscal year 2021.

Historical and Forward Sales for Achushnet and Callaway NEW

Aside from these equipment producers, retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods also benefit from a surge in golf. While Dick’s product offerings encompass various sports including golf, the retail giant also owns Golf Galaxy, a one-stop shop for golf clubs, apparel, and accessories. Recently, they’ve adopted and integrated TrackMan technology into their Golf Galaxy locations to build a profitable golf club fitting business and experience. Dick’s CEO, Lauren Hobart, recently highlighted the strong trend in golf and the anticipated continuous growth in the industry on the company’s fourth quarter 2020 earnings call:

“We have a lot of hope and optimism that comes of these big ticket categories…golf… that really surged during the pandemic when people were trying to get outside… there is momentum and many of those categories have long-term additions, long term athletes who have joined. So, think about the game of golf, for example. Which is at all-time highs in participation and in rounds played… we’ve very optimistic that team sports will come back and that we’ll still have a trending golf business.”

Dick’s is well positioned to reap the benefits of any additional boom in the golf equipment industry given both entities’ strong e-commerce business, along with 728 physical Dick’s Sporting Goods and 99 Golf Galaxy stores across the U.S.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has clearly had a booming effect on golf, but what else can help fuel the momentum?

Entertainment Golf

Across U.S. cities, technology-infused driving ranges have become an extremely popular attraction. Better known as “entertainment golf,” the venues have built a strong business around providing a social experience for customers, offering fun yet competitive driving-range-themed games while serving food and alcoholic beverages. Of the companies building and operating these ventures, Topgolf is the most well-known.

In early 2020, rumors swirled of a potential TopGolf initial public offering. However, on October 27, 2020, Callaway shocked the markets with the acquisition of Topgolf International Inc. for $2.57 billion, according to FactSet data. The move established Callaway as a clear leader in today’s modern golf entertainment industry, adding a new revenue stream along with numerous synergies to their operations.

But just how much influence can Topgolf, an “off-course” experience, have on traditional golf? According to a 2018 survey conducted by the National Golf Foundation, 53% of Topgolf guests who identified as non-golfers said, “that playing Topgolf has positively influenced their interest in playing traditional golf.”

Another public company worth noting in the space is Drive Shack, Inc. The company operates similar facilities as TopGolf, although they only currently have four locations, making them much smaller than their Callaway-owned competitor. In collaboration with professional golfer Rory Mcllroy, the company has created “Puttery,” described as a “new indoor, small format entertainment experience that will feature high-tech mini golf and premium food and beverage offerings.”

There is a lot of optimism surrounding entertainment golf, with high expectations for growth that could have a major impact on the golf industry as a whole.

Other Sectors – Hospitality, Management, and Real Estate

Lastly, there are several interesting niche sectors that may benefit from a positive golf trend. A quick list of companies and a brief description of their golf-related business can be found below:

Company

business

Avalon Holdings Corporation Class A

Course Management and Operations

BrightView Holdings, Inc.

Course Irrigation and Landscaping Services

DSG Global Inc.

Technology: GPS Cart Tracking Solutions

Garmin Ltd.

Technology: GPS Consumer Tracking Devices

Ingersoll Rand Inc.

Golf Cart Manufacturing (Owner of Club Car)

IZON Network Inc.

Technology: Cart Fleet Pace & GPS Tracking

Pool Corporation (POOL)

Course Products – Irrigation Systems

SiteOne Landscape Supply Inc.

Course Products

St. Joe Company

Course Management and Operations

Textron Inc.

Golf Cart Manufacturing

Vail Resorts

Golf Course Real Estate

VICI Properties Inc.

Golf Course Real Estate

Conclusion

In 2020, the golf industry and the companies that serve it witnessed a reversal of the sport’s downward trend as Americans looked for safe, socially distanced outdoor activities. With the 2021 golf season just beginning, it will be interesting to see if the sport continues to increase in popularity as the country returns to a new post-pandemic “normal.”

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Carmine DiCesare

Senior Strategic Consultant

Mr. Carmine DiCesare is a Senior Strategic Consultant at FactSet based in Chicago. He earned a B.S. in finance with a minor in computer information systems from Bentley University.

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