What country is golf most popular in?

Golf is a sport with a passionate global following, though its popularity is not evenly distributed around the world. Some countries embrace golf as a national pastime, with a strong golf culture and infrastructure to support the sport. Other nations have been slower to adopt golf, due to economic, geographic, or cultural factors. So which countries have the highest participation and interest in golf? Here we will explore global golf popularity and analyze the leading golf nations.

Golf’s Global Reach

Golf is played competitively and recreationally in over 200 countries worldwide. The sport traces its origins to 15th century Scotland, where it initially developed as a pastime for nobility. Golf later spread across the British Empire in the 19th century before growing into an international sport in the 20th century.

Today golf enjoys immense global appeal as both a participatory sport and spectator event. Over 60 million people play golf worldwide, while 600 million people watch golf on television. The geographic reach of golf spans all inhabited continents, from leading golf countries in North America and Europe to emerging golf markets in Asia and Africa.

Measuring Golf Popularity

There are several key metrics that indicate the popularity of golf in a given country:

– Number of golfers – The total number of people who play golf, both casually and in organized competitions. A larger golfing population points to greater popularity.

– Golf courses – The number of golf courses and driving ranges in a country. More golf facilities allows easier access to playing golf.

– Golf industry size – The economic impact of golf in a nation, including golf tourism revenue. A larger golf industry implies higher popularity and participation.

– Professional golf success – Wins by domestic golfers in major professional tournaments. Golf interest grows when local players succeed on the world stage.

– Golf events hosted – Holding prominent pro golf tournaments in a country, which requires suitable facilities and infrastructure. This indicates both golf popularity and a strong golf industry.

By looking at these metrics, we can compare the relative golf fervor between different nations. However, absolute population must also be considered, since large countries will naturally have an advantage in total participants. To fully assess golf popularity, participation should be measured per capita.

Most Golfer-Friendly Countries

Several factors create an environment conducive for golf popularity within a country:

– Wealth – Golf remains an expensive sport, so affluent nations provide more opportunities to play.

– Climate – Warm, sunny weather allows year-round golf in some regions. Places with long winters are limited to partial golf seasons.

– Topography – Flat, open land enables building expansive golf courses. Mountainous or densely urban countries lack space for many golf courses.

– Tourism appeal – Golf vacations are popular, so top tourist destinations tend to attract golfers and golf investment.

– Culture/history – Countries where golf is historically ingrained often have high participation today. Golf interest can be passed down through generations.

Nations that rank highly across these drivers will likely have the most golf devotees as well as resources devoted to facilitating and promoting the sport.

Top 10 Golf Countries

Based on the popularity factors and enabling conditions outlined above, here are the top 10 countries worldwide for golf popularity:

1. United States

With over 15 million golfers out of a population of 330 million, the United States has more total golfers than any country. Golf is the 5th most popular sport for participation in America. While less than 10% of Americans play golf themselves, professional golf enjoys enormous popularity as a televised spectator sport in the U.S.

The United States boasts:
– Over 15,000 golf facilities
– Leads the world in golf tourism revenue ($84 billion per year)
– Hosts around 1/3 of all professional golf tournaments

2. Canada

Golf participation per capita is higher in Canada than the United States. There are nearly 6 million golfers among Canada’s 38 million residents. The golf industry generates $11.5 billion in economic activity in Canada annually.

3. Australia

With ideal weather conditions for year-round play across most of the continent, Australia boasts 1 golf course per 13,000 residents and over 1.2 million regular golfers. Golf tourism makes up 15% of international visitors.

4. South Korea

While golf arrived less than 40 years ago, no country has embraced the sport as rapidly as South Korea. There are over 450,000 golfers, astonishing given the country’s small population of 52 million. Golf’s appeal took off after Se Ri Pak won the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open.

5. Sweden

The Scandinavian nation has the most golf courses compared to population, with nearly 600 courses serving just 10 million Swedes. Golf is widely considered a national pastime.

6. Scotland

As the birthplace as golf, Scotland holds a special place in the sport’s history. Over 500,000 Scots play golf regularly (nearly 10% of the population), and tourists flock to iconic Scottish courses like St Andrews Links.

7. England

English golf has shaped the modern game, as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club long dictated golf’s rules. England has over 1,900 courses and a rich professional golf history. Golf interest is declining however, with participations rates dropping 30% over the past decade.

8. Argentina

Golf caught on among the British community in Argentina in the late 19th century. Today over 230,000 Argentines play golf, and the PGA Tour holds an event in Buenos Aires.

9. South Africa

South Africa boasts around 450 courses and over 450,000 regular golfers. The country has produced many top global players, include hall of famers Gary Player and Ernie Els.

10. Japan

Japan embraced golf in the post-war period, with over 2 million Japanese golfers today. Golf tourism is also substantial, though the high expense of memberships has limited participants.

Other Notable Golf Countries

Beyond the top 10 golf nations, several other countries have strong golf cultures and engagement:

– New Zealand: High general sports participation reaches golf, with 300,000 Kiwi golfers and 400+ courses. Golf tourism is increasing.

– Spain: Spain has nearly 300,000 regular golfers and world-class courses built for golf tourism, though golf trails soccer and basketball in popularity.

– Germany: Golf remains an elite sport in Germany. The country has around 675,000 players and over 730 golf courses.

– France: France has over 400,000 players. Golf struggled in France until top players like Thomas Levet brought attention in the 1990s.

– Ireland: A proud golf nation like Scotland with iconic clubs like Royal Portrush. Ireland has 300+ courses for its small population.

– Denmark: Denmark’s 500,000 golfers give it one of Europe’s highest golf participation rates.

– Poland: Poland may seem an unlikely golf country, but the sport’s popularity has risen rapidly with over 200 courses now built.

– China: China is an emerging golf nation, with over 500 new courses built in recent years as the sport gains appeal among the growing middle class.

The Rise of Golf in Developing Countries

Historically golf has been associated primarily with developed Western nations, but the geography of golf is starting to shift. Many nations in Asia, Africa, and South America are seeing fast rising interest and participation as the benefits of golf are recognized across cultures.

For example, the number of golfers in China has grown from virtually none in the 1980s to over 500,000 today, as the sport gains a luxury status association. Golf is also spreading in places as diverse as Morocco, Ghana, Turkey, Nepal, Egypt, and Vietnam.

This global diffusion creates new opportunities to access a broader demographic in the golf industry. Today over 15 countries are represented in the top 50 golfers in the men’s and women’s world rankings. Expanding golf popularity worldwide will ensure continued growth for both recreational and professional golf.


While no country can match the United States in total golfers or market size, America does not lead on a per capita basis. Participation rates reveal that countries like Canada, Australia, and Sweden have ingrained golf more deeply into their national cultures.

The highest concentrations of golf devotees are found in English-speaking countries and northern Europe, areas where golf first spread over a century ago. But the geography of world golf is gradually expanding as more nations in Asia and elsewhere recognize golf’s merits and commercial appeal.

A select group of countries like Scotland and the United States will always hold an unassailable position in golf’s history and imagination. But by bringing golf to new regions worldwide, opportunities exist to grow the sport’s global player base and competitive balance. This will benefit both golf fans and the golf industry.

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