Golf’s growth across Valley spurs $6 billion economic boost while staying environmentally friendly

Only 2% of Arizona’s daily water usage goes toward golf course irrigation for over 370 locations throughout the state. “The reason the daily usage is going down is that a lot of golf courses are using reclaimed water,” said Luis Cordova, the Vice President and COO of Rounds Consulting Group. (Photo by Susan Wong/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Snowbirds flock to Arizona every year seeking a break from the cold weather throughout the winter in a unique area of the country that receives sunshine and springtime weather during the coldest months of the year.

With an influx of people getting outside during the winter and throughout the year, it’s no surprise that the golf industry has an overwhelmingly positive impact on the state’s economy.

Arizona is home to over 370 golf courses, where players completed over 16 million rounds and generated over $6 billion in 2021, according to a Rounds Consulting Group report on the golf industry. Rounds’ data comprises not only golf courses but repair shops, brand stores and other golf-related businesses.

“There’s basically three main categories (of the report),” said Luis Cordova, the Vice President and COO of Rounds Consulting Group. “There’s the golf courses themselves, so all the activity that goes on in golf courses. Then there’s the tourism component, so Arizona gets a lot of golfers from across the country, so that has another economic impact. And then outside of that, there are all these golf-related businesses in Arizona.”

The Rounds Consulting Group was assigned by the Arizona Alliance of Golf to create the economic model using the three areas of research. The AAG’s mission is to educate Arizonans about the benefits of the golfing industry for not only local golfers but for the entire community.

“We are a unified organization that could work to protect and promote the industry here in Arizona, while also educating non-golfers about the important contributions that the industry has on the state,” said AAG executive director Katie Prendergast. “The goal being that the alliance could start to serve as sort of the unified voice for golf in Arizona.”

The AAG asked Rounds Consulting Group to conduct the research for this study as an update to a study that Arizona State University conducted over a decade ago on the economic contributions of the golf industry.

Prendergast was sure to include data that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic. Research shows golfers around the country played 13% more rounds in 2020 during the pandemic than they did the year prior.

The growth in Arizona followed the national trend and continued to grow in 2021. There was a 3.8% growth of rounds played from 2020 to 2021.

“A lot of people are moving to Arizona, so the whole population base is growing,” Cordova said. “And then the rise in remote work gave people a lot more flexibility so they can golf during the day.”

As the number of golfers grows, so too are the employees that help run the golf courses throughout the state. In 2021, 19,300 people were employed by golf-related businesses – an 8% increase from the number of employees working before the pandemic started. The growth of golf employment was determined to be directly correlated to the number of golfers playing.

Not only is the amount of people playing golf important in the sport’s economic impact in Arizona, but the amount of spectators for big events also plays a big part.

The WM Phoenix Open, one of the largest golf tournaments in the country, creates a large socioeconomic impact on the communities surrounding TPC Scottsdale. The tournament is put on by the Thunderbirds, which is a non-profit organization that donates the proceeds from the tournament to charity.

Chance Cozby, the executive director of the Thunderbirds, has been a part of the organization for the last three years. During his time with the Thunderbirds, Cozby has helped the organization donate millions of dollars to charities.

“Over the life of the tournament, more than $175 million has been distributed to local organizations and individuals in need through Thunderbirds Charities,” Cozby said. “Golf is not only part of the fabric of this community, golf works to strengthen the community.”

Large events in Scottsdale, such as the WM Phoenix Open and the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships, create a boom in business in the surrounding areas.

As people come from out of town to attend these events, the biggest benefactors are restaurants and hotels. The WM Phoenix Open attracted an estimated 700,000 spectators and many needed somewhere to stay and eat.

“When people come from out of town they are using our hotels and resorts, but are also going out to eat and drink,” said Stephanie Pressler, who works as the Director of Community and Government Affairs for Experience Scottsdale – a marketing organization that supports businesses in Scottsdale. “There’s only so much time you can be on a golf course that golfers will go out and explore Scottsdale.”

The most impressive statistic from the Rounds Consulting Group’s study is the environmental impact of golf courses while still generating more money than ever. While concerns are often raised about the amount of water that golf courses use, only 2% of Arizona’s daily water usage goes toward golf course irrigation.

Arizona has tried to curb that thinking by using reclaimed water to irrigate the grass and fill the lakes within the course.

“The reason the daily usage is going down is that a lot of golf courses are using reclaimed water,” Cordova said. “They’re not using the clean drinking water that we use.”

Throughout the state of Arizona, over 46 million gallons of reclaimed water were used in 2021. Maricopa County leads the state in reclaimed water wages with 25 million gallons used a year.

Including environmental statistics was important for the AAG in its efforts to protect the game of golf by showing off all the benefits of golf both economically and environmentally.

“We are ensuring that elected leaders, regulators, influencers and media voices understand the water leadership that’s occurred within the industry, and also the contributions that the industry has,” Prendergast said.

As the years go on, the economic impact of the golfing industry will continue to grow in Arizona. The report estimates that 27% of beginning golfers who started during the pandemic will turn into committed players.

With the help of the AAG and several nonprofit organizations, youth participation is going up as well.

Although there are no predictions about what the economy will look like in the future, the game of golf will remain strong throughout Arizona.

Lucas Gordon LOO-kiss GORE-din
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Lucas Gordon expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business and digital audiences. Gordon has interned at The Arizona Republic.

Susan Wong soo-zin wah-ong (she/her/hers)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Susan Wong expects to graduate in May 2023 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Wong, who earned a bachelor’s in sports journalism in May 2022, is a digital media intern with Sun Devil Athletics.