Golf is still a “rich man’s game,” according to research by American Express Business Insights. Despite this, the recession dealt the sport a tough blow, with golf spending falling significantly during the downturn.
Fortunately, spending on golf is starting to recover, with the first signs of improvement showing up in the retail spending on items such as golf equipment and apparel. Retail sales grew 10 percent in the first quarter of 2011, compared with the same period a year ago, the study found.
But spending on the course has yet to recover fully. As consumers return to the sport, some interesting trends are emerging, such as a shift in the location of golf’s hot spots.
Several new regions have emerged as prime golfing destinations based on increases in spending at both public and private courses in their state.
Also, many of the states that typically receive the lion’s share of golf spending saw decreases in 2010, compared with the prior year.
Click ahead to see which states are gaining ground, and how much spending has changed in the top five states for golf spending, according to American Express.
By Christina Cheddar Berk
Posted 17 June 2011
Updated and Corrected20 June 2011
Change in Spending: -7%
The bigger they are, the harder they fall? With more than 1,000 golf facilities, Florida has more courses than any other state, and has long been a top golfing destination.
Pictured here, The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Change in Spending: -3%
With mild weather and more than 900 golf facilities, California is a top golfing destination.
Pictured here, Palm Springs in Palm Desert, Calif.
Change in Spending: -2%
Georgia plays host to the annual Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships in professional golf. The Masters and the state’s fantastic year-round weather help attract golfers to the sate each year.
Pictured here, Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.
Change in Spending: + 1%
Golf is big in the state of Texas, with more than 800 golfing facilities. Texas has played host to numerous PGA and LPGA tour events, and many professional golfers call the state their home.
Pictured here, Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas
Change in Spending: unchanged
New York boasts more than 800 golfing facilities, many that rank among the top courses in the country.
One reason is golf has long been viewed as an effective backdrop for deal-making. But unfortunately, for New York, this type of golf spending fell sharply during the recession.
According to the American Express study, small and large businesses have reduced their spending on golf outings by 25 percent and 35 percent, respectively, between the first quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2011. However, the study found that spending has been edging higher in each of the last four quarters.
Pictured here, Leatherstocking Golf Course in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Growth in Spending: +10%
South Carolina has many of the qualities that make for a popular golfing destination. The weather is mild year-round, and there are many challenging courses that have hosted major golf championships, such as the The Heritage in Hilton Head and the Ocean Course in Kiawah.
Pictured here, Thornblade Club in Greenville, S.C.
Growth in Spending: +11%
With courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Edmund Ault and other great course designers, Arkansas is becoming a new hot spot for golf and it saw one of the highest increases in spending.
Pictured here, Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark.
Growth in Spending: +12%
Delaware has 53 golf courses, many of them near the cities of Wilmington, Newark, and the popular tourist destination of Rehoboth Beach.
Pictured here, Salt Pond Golf Club in Bethany Beach, Del.
Growth in Spending: +12%
Iowa also doesn’t rank among the top golfing destinations, but the state is seeing growth in the sport.
There are more than 441 golf courses in the state, most of them located around cities such as Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Sioux City.
Pictured here, Glen Oaks Country Club in West Des Moines, Iowa
Growth in Spending, 2009-10: +40%
With its smaller population and cold winters, South Dakota does not rank among the highest states for golf spending, but the sport appears to be enjoying relatively rapid growth there.
The state posted the biggest percentage gain in golf spending in the entire U.S.
The four states with the biggest percentage declines were Wyoming, where spending fell 21 percent; Maine, where spending fell 20 percent; Kansas, where spending fell 16 percent; and Idaho, where spending fell 16%.
Pictured here, Elmwood Park Golf Course in Sioux Falls, S.D.