On the back of that boost, the sport is being encouraged to grasp the opportunity to retain new and returning players.
Research led by the R&A, together with England Golf Golf Ireland, Scottish Golf and Wales Golf, demonstrates how the sport thrived in 2020 despite the challenges of Covid-19.
Two new participation reports, produced by Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS), show that a significant number of players enjoyed golf on full-length courses, as well as alternative forms of the sport, including driving ranges, Par 3 golf and pitch and putt.
There was also an increase in the number of female golfers and a reduction in the average age of participants.
Phil Anderton, chief development officer at the R&A, said: “We have seen a real surge in the number of golfers in Great Britain and Ireland playing the sport and this is reflected by the high demand for tee times and clubs reporting a strong interest in membership last year.
“Golf has shown that it can provide significant health benefits and this has been important for many golfers during these very challenging times.
“It is vital that golf seizes the opportunity to maintain this heightened interest by offering new and returning golfers compelling reasons to stay within the sport and enjoy it with friends and family.”
Key highlights from the 2020 Great Britain Golf Participation Report include the total adult golfers on a full-length course (9 or 18 hole) increasing by 2.1m players to 5.2m – the highest figure recorded this century – with an additional rise of 200,000 in Ireland.
Of these golfers, 36 per cent were identified as returning or new golfers, with 16 per cent of players starting or trying golf for the first time because of the pandemic.
The average age of golfers fell by five years to 41, with the majority of newcomers aged under 55.
In addition, 25 per cent of female golfers were new to the sport and tried it for the first time because of the pandemic, while driving range use increased from 2.3m to 4.3m players.
Post Covid Opportunity Research carried out by SMS, along with findings from Bayfirth Research, details experiences of golfers during the pandemic, their motivations for playing and their long-term plans.
Among new golfers, 98 per cent of those interviewed identified they are enjoying playing golf and 95 per cent see themselves doing so for many years to come.
The impact of Covid-19 restrictions on mental and physical health and loneliness has been considerable, with the research showing how golf has helped in these areas.
The research also outlined recommendations that clubs can take to retain new players, including feeling welcome and valued.
Anderton added: “The mental and physical health benefits of golf have helped boost participation and that is hugely encouraging given the sport offers a wonderful form of exercise out in the fresh air for all ages and abilities.
“With more female players also coming into the sport, it presents an opportunity for golf clubs to harness interest from this key demographic and to engage in our #FOREeveryone campaign.”