This is big business in Korea (and it's not K-pop)

So Yeon Ryu of South Korea plays a shot.
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Golf, a game often associated with business and affluence, is gaining a much broader appeal in South Korea, which means big business for the golf industry.

Some 29,500 golf clubs were sold in the first four months of this year at major golf club chain stores in South Korea, a retail audit of golf club sales by market research firm GfK shows. That was 5,000 more compared with the same time last year.

According to the report, published earlier this month, a consistent upward trend in the sales volume of golf clubs during the same period over the past three years shows that a fixation with golf in the north Asian economy has become more widespread.

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"Whereas golf was once deemed a prestigious activity only afforded by the rich and more sophisticated group of people, it has in recent times evolved to become a relatively inexpensive pastime that can be enjoyed by the mass," said Chang KyungEun, managing director for GfK in Korea.

Analysts say rising golf-club sales also tell a story about the country's consumers: after years of striving to develop its economy, South Koreans are now more willing to spend their hard-earned cash on leisure.

South Korea is Asia's fourth biggest economy and in many respects it's regarded as a developed economy after years of rapid growth. It became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1996.

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"Golf is something more and more Koreans aspire to and one thing we find is that as Korea becomes more affluent, leisure spending has certainly increased," said Frederic Neumann, the co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC.

"It's almost an encouraging sign that Koreans are learning to chill. They are a nation of hard working people who have for decades strived to get their economy into the top ranks of the world," he added.

The World Tourism Organization expects leisure travel spending in South Korea to grow by 4.6 percent a year by 2023. It grew an estimated 2.3 percent last year.

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"The vast number of indoor and outdoor golf courses and screen golf facilities that are sprouting out to cater to this growing culture is making it more accessible than ever for people to enjoy this sport, whether for business or leisure," said Chang.


Golf is hugely popular in South Korea – both as sport and for networking.

Tiger back on course puts golf in green
Tiger back on course puts golf in green

In fact, local media reported last year that amid increased provocation from North Korea, South Korea's top military chiefs played golf – something the government was reportedly looking into.

According to GfK, Korean, Japanese and U.S. manufacturers dominate the South Korean golf market, which is made up of over 40 brands.

GfK says the past year has seen consumers swing in preference towards Korean and Japanese brands, which managed to grow their volume share in the market by 61 and 4 percent, at the expense of U.S. brands.

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Some Korean sports brands are certainly benefiting from the trend.

Shares in Seoul-listed sports firm Fila have risen roughly 40 percent over the last year and are up over 20 percent so far this year, outpacing the broader South Korean market, which is up just 0.2 percent.