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The hole truth: Is Ireland really the most golf-obsessed country on earth? 

By Dr Doug Witherspoon - 30th Mar 2024


A 2020 report showed that in Ireland, 321,000 people had been touched or affected in some way by a certain condition. Post-pandemic, this figure increased dramatically to 540,000. These figures refer to those who contracted the ‘golf bug’ – the numbers reflect the amount of people who have played on a full-length course in Ireland more than once in 2020. This condition not only impacts those who have the bug, but can also have an effect on their family. Sometimes, it can seriously improve quality-of-life and work-life balance.

However, the report and further research has found that many of these people are not members of a golf club, meaning they may be slipping through the cracks.

Regular readers will know that The Dorsal View sometimes takes a sideways look at popular sports in the run-up to major events and golf has not escaped our light-hearted scrutiny. 

As the US Masters Augusta National is upon us, it seems a good time to take another look at the world of golf, especially in light of some quirky new research. The researchers used the Google Trends tool, which measured interest in topics like golf, including tournaments, news, and results. The overall interest in each country was noted, and a scoring system devised.

Ireland emerged as the most golf-obsessed country in the world, accumulating a score of 380. Way back in second place was the US, which scored 165, while the UK took third place with 139. Breathing down the UK’s neck were Canada and New Zealand, at 138 and 134 respectively, and the rest of the top-10 list was made up of: Australia (101); South Africa (80); Bosnia and Herzegovina (45); Sweden (41); and Finland (39).

Post-pandemic, interest in golf seems to be flourishing in Ireland. Research published two years ago showed that there was an explosion in interest in golf during the pandemic, as it was seen as one of the safer outdoor activities at the time. 

Participation reports by Golf Ireland, Scottish Golf, England Golf, and Wales Golf showed that 5.3 million adult golfers played either a nine- or 18-hole course in Ireland and the UK in 2021. One of the notable findings for Ireland showed that the number of female golf course users jumped from 70,000 to 111,000 in 2021. In 2020 and 2021, 29 per cent of the 15-to-24 year-olds who took up the sport said they did so because of the pandemic. 

For those who sold golfing equipment online during that time, the Covid cloud did indeed have a bright silver lining. 

For the ‘golf nerds’

Maybe you just play for pleasure, or perhaps you are in the majority who play to win, whether you admit it or not. Either way, golf is one of the sports that attracts analytical people who are on a constant quest to tweak their game and gain that extra 1 per cent. 

If that’s you, a study published last year may be of interest. It was presented at the World Scientific Congress of Golf – yes, that’s a thing – where coaches and players mingle with researchers, academics, and industry for an annual celebration of all things golf-related. 

The study was unveiled by Prof Daisuke Ichikawa of Toyo University in Japan, in which he divided 28 golfers into ‘average’ and ‘skilled’ groups. Those classified as ‘average’ typically scored 94, while the ‘skilled’ players scored 74 on average. Each group hit three batches of five drivers on a range and each player was instructed to treat it as they would a real golf course. 

The metrics they used included attack angle, face-to-target, clubface-to-path, club pathway, and clubhead speed. The results were published in Golf Digest, and showed that the skilled golfers had a ‘higher angle of attack’, meaning they hit the ball on more of an upward trajectory. They also managed a faster clubhead speed. 

The ‘skilled’ golfers also had smaller variation in their clubhead path, clubface-to-target, and clubface-to-path than those in the ‘average’ ranks. Taken all together, the researchers said this data shows a 60 per cent difference in the swing quality between the two groups in this aspect of the game alone. 

So much for the research; all we need now is the weather to play. As my grandmother often said: “It’d be a grand little country if you could put a roof on it.”

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