Norway is enjoying a surge in both golf bookings and membership numbers as a combination of factors help to grow the game.
After the maiden PGA Tour victory of emerging talent Viktor Hovland at the Puerto Rico Open in February, the Norwegian Golf Federation already were sensing a rising interest.
The dramatic putt on the final green at Gleneagles from Suzann Pettersen, another Norwegian standout, secured Europe's victory last September in the Solheim Cup and also galvanised interest.
Now Norwegian golf clubs are enjoying a membership boost from the sport being one of the primary outdoor activities included in the first phase of lifting lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After Norwegian society virtually closed completely on 12 March, golf was among the few activities allowed to resume from 1 April under strict guidance from the NGF.
Remarkably, since the start of April, an average of 172 new members a day have joined the 176 affiliated clubs in Norway. In total, more than 13,000 new or returning members have joined clubs since the start of this year (9,500 younger than age 50). Even more significantly, almost 300,000 rounds were booked in May, more than double for the corresponding month last year.
With other Scandinavian countries also experiencing a renewed interest in golf, Tor-Anders Hanssen, the general secretary of the NGF, says he is delighted with the current rise and seeing their collective hard work during the lockdown period come to fruition.
“It’s the highest interest we’ve had for golf in Norway in the last 20 years,” said Hanssen. “Playing golf and operating almost as normal since 1 April has been of huge benefit to us. We were one of the very sports that could do our activities, only along with the likes of orienteering and running, as we had our guidelines ready.
“Immediately after lockdown, we established an emergency staff, including people from the Norwegian Golf Federation, managers of golf clubs and with our interest-organisations. We met every day from 8am and we sent out important information to all clubs almost daily.
“During that period, we also tried to work closely together with the Confederation of Sports and we did a lot of political work. While we furloughed 15 of our own 27 staff, the emergency staff worked on guidelines for golf, how could we open up and play golf under restrictions.”
Hanssen was expecting a successful year after 2018 US Amateur champion Hovland, who came through the Norwegian national amateur squads, helped spark new interest in the sport.
Hovland’s rapid ascent through the collegiate and amateur ranks has him, aged just 22, placed inside the world’s top 60 and thriving at the highest level. Another Norwegian PGA Tour player, Kristoffer Ventura, who like Hovland attended Oklahoma State University, has also helped drive excitement for golf.
Now Norway’s current membership boom is giving Hanssen and his team positive challenges. After all, in 2019, the NGF totalled 90,836 memberships. They currently have just more than 100,000 members, already meeting a six-figure target they sought to achieve by 2023.
The R&A presently provide the NGF with a national body development grant towards a female coaching and development project. To help them capitalise on this current membership opportunity, a second grant from The R&A’s COVID-19 Support Fund is to be brought forward for the NGF’s use.
Hanssen adds, “Going back to late last year and then the PGA Tour victory of Viktor in February, I could sense growing interest in golf in Norway. We could see it day by day, not initially in the numbers but the interest, especially among males aged from 25 to 45. All in all, Viktor’s success and the publicity, and working through the coronavirus situation as we have done, has been helpful to us.
“Initially, we couldn’t see a big rise in memberships, but it was especially from 1 April and up until now. Being one of the first sports to open up has helped, as has the quality of the courses which are better than previous years.
“We’re very pleased and we have to retain these members, that is priority No 1 now. Looking at the number of rounds booked in our golf club system, we have seen huge growth too.”
Standout clubs such as Oslo and Miklagard, where Hovland enjoyed training facilities as a teenager, are doing very well, but Hanssen notes that even an “average” club on the outskirts of Oslo is fully booked just now. Long daylight hours in the Norwegian summer will help in the weeks ahead.
“In the major cities, playing time is a problem due to capacity,” he notes. “We need to spread golf around more, for example to clubs in more rural areas to help attract new members. It’s a positive problem, of course.”
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