The University of Arizona

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Improving Lives, Communities and the Economy

New Study says Arizona Golf Industry Contributes $3.9 Billion to Economy

A new study out by University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension and the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics says the state’s golf industry contributed $3.9 billion in sales to Arizona’s economy in 2014, and uses 1.9% of the state’s freshwater.

“I expected the numbers.  But this is something we talk about on a regular basis - the impact of golf on the economy,” says Lonnie Lister, Tucson's Skyline Country Club General Manager and Vice President of the Club Managers Association of America, Greater Southwest Chapter.

“I think the survey also validates that people in the golf industry are good stewards of water,” Lister says.

Lister was one of hundreds of golf industry employees from courses around the state that participated in a survey as part of the study, done by Dari Duval, Ashley Kerna, and Dr. George Frisvold – or Cooperative Extension’s “Economic Impact Analysis Team” along with Extension turfgrass specialist, Kai Umeda.

The team worked with Arizona Golf Course Superintendent’s Association, “Cactus and Pine GCSA”, to get the survey out to people actually working in the industry – like club managers, course superintendents, and golf club professionals.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension, members of the golf industry, the governor’s office, and several state water agencies agreed there was a need for updated figures, as the last large-scale analysis of the golf industry was done for 2004.

“Part of the idea of the survey was to understand the industry better, and also for the industry to portray what they do for the state economy, how many jobs they support, how much revenue they generate, how they’re using water, and how they’re adopting different conservation practices,” says Frisvold.

The board president of “Cactus and Pine” says his ‘eyes were opened’ when he saw the final results.

“As far as economic contribution - $3.9 billion.  That’s total direct and indirect from the industry.  That’s what really sticks out to me.  That’s with a ‘b’ not an ‘m’.  And the revenue directly, just from golf courses alone is $1.1 billion dollars,” says Rory Van Poucke, the “Cactus and Pine” association’s Board President, and also the General Manager of Apache Sun Golf Club in Queen Creek, Arizona. 

Other numbers from the study “stick out” to Van Poucke, as well.

“Golf facilities employ about 18,700 full and part time. And the other number that sticks out is estimated number of rounds played in 2014 was 11.6 million golf rounds in the entire state. Other numbers look at all facets of golf – hotels, restaurants, the total number of jobs is about 43,000 jobs.”

“People just don’t realize what a huge impact golf has on the state of Arizona and what an integral part golf is to our economy,” Van Poucke says.

Cooperative Extension’s turfgrass agent Kai Umeda, agrees.

“Here in Arizona, you’ve got the ‘5 C’s’. Now you’ve got the ‘6th C’ - with golf COURSES,” says Umeda.

“That’s something people don’t recognize – the turf industry and growing grass is a big attractant for visitors that come to the state to play golf, recreate or go to watch golf and other sports,” says Umeda.

Umeda -literally- works in the field -  with golf course professionals on a daily basis, in turfgrass management.

He, along with other “Extension Experts”– including David Kopec and Paul Brown – have looked at turfgrass and irrigation practices for years, the research of which is shared with members of the golf course industry.

“We really dug deep with the University of Arizona.  We worked with Kai, and Dr. David Kopec, George (Frisvold) and Dr. Paul Brown. They’re doing research in new grass that is more drought tolerant, that can take higher salt in water.  We need that research.  It’s a great partnership to get the word out about golf in the state of Arizona.  We’re cutting edge with the university - we get education through Extension about new technology and research,” says Van Poucke.

Umeda says the fact that industry members are working to be ‘cutting edge’ is often overlooked.

“The industry uses so little water, but it’s perceived as wasting water.  They are generating an economic return for the state, which it turns out is a $3.9 billion business.  People may not understand what the golf course superintendents do – when they are trying to conserve water and use it judiciously,” says Umeda.

Something this recent economic impact study illustrates.

“Golf courses used 1.9% of freshwater, that’s surface water and groundwater.  That does not include effluent use.  Compared to past years, effluent use increased, but that varies county to county.  It’s less where there is not a lot of irrigated agriculture,” Frisvold says.

“Different counties are different in water use. For example, golf’s freshwater use in Santa Cruz County is higher than average, even though it’s only around 9 percent of the county total.  Much of Santa Cruz’s effluent is used to maintain instream flows and riparian habitat in the Santa Cruz River.  Water use everywhere also changes year-to-year, depending on temperature and rainfall.This study is a snapshot of where the industry is at a certain point in time,” Frisvold says.

A snapshot that shows a positive picture, according to General Manager Lister.

“This study will help the average person understand. ‘no, a golf course isn’t just a waste of water.’  The golf industry is an important industry not only to Arizona but on a national level.  And that we can’t just look at it as just a place that’s consuming our resources and not giving anything back to the community.  This study shows golf is definitely providing jobs, and giving dollars to benefit the economy.”

Click here for see the full study, and a summary of the study.