Football, Baseball, Basketball, and Other Popular Sports

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chapter 5

Americans love sports, and most children grow up playing team and individual sports during their physical education programs at school and simply for fun. Many men have played baseball or softball at some time in their lives, and some continue to play in community or neighborhood leagues long after they are finished with school. Today, women are playing sports once played mainly by men, such as soccer, baseball, and basketball. Many men and increasing numbers of women are sports fans.


Historically, football, baseball, and basketball have been called the "holy trinity" of sports in the United States. They make money not only by filling ballparks and arenas with fans but also from televised sports events. The start of each new sports season brings hope to millions of sports fans that their teams will be in the championship games at the end of the year. These sports also fill stadiums with fans to watch middle school, high school, and collegiate competitions as well as professional games.

A December 2003 Gallup poll found that 37% of Americans named football as their favorite sport to watch. Almost a third of this number, 14%, said basketball, followed by 10% who named baseball and 6% who said figure skating. Ice hockey was named by 5%, as was auto racing. (See Figure 5.1.) Golf was named by 3%, and soccer and boxing were cited by 2% each.

While the number of Americans naming football and basketball had held relatively steady over the preceding ten years, the number of baseball fans had declined noticeably. Baseball was once the top spectator sport in America—in 1948, 39% named it their favorite sport to watch, and in 1960, 34% did, with football cited by just 21%. By 1972, however, football had taken the lead, 32% to 24%.

In 2003 about 67.6 million people attended Major League Baseball games and slightly more than 28,000


bought tickets to the average game. In the National Basketball Association's 2003–04 season, 20.3 million fans bought tickets, and an average of 17,059 attended each game. The National Hockey League also counted close to 20.3 million tickets sold in 2003–04 and averaged 16,533 per game. The National Football League had 17.1 million ticket buyers in 2003, but with far fewer games the average attendance was 66,726.

Although ratings of televised sports including baseball, basketball, and hockey declined in the early twenty-first century, football held steady. In 2004 approximately seventy-two thousand ticket buyers and 143 million television viewers watched the Super Bowl victory of the New England Patriots over the Carolina Panthers.

Collegiate Athletics

football. College sports are also popular with Americans, and many college teams inspire more devotion than


National Collegiate Athletic Association football attendance, 2003
Division I-A and I-AA conferences and independents
Total teamsG2003 attend.Avg. PGChange+ in avg.Change+ in total
#Did not have same lineup as 2002.
$New national record.
*Record high.
source: "2003 NCAA College Football Attendance," The National Collegiate Athletic Association Statistics Service, 2004, (accessed September 10, 2004)
1. Southeastern (I-A)1283$6,146,890$74,059Up 744Up 61,734
2. Big Ten (I-A)11755,264,867*70,198Up 261Dn 190,238
3. Big 12 (I-A)1281*4,565,288*56,362Up 1,187Up 206,470
4. Atlantic Coast (I-A)958*3,012,392*51,938Up 945Up 54,781
5. Pacific-10 (I-A)10623,199,732*51,608Up 1,610Dn 100,129
6. Big East (I-A)851*2,390,358*46,870Up 3,179Up 74,750
7. Div. I-A Indep.#421940,40444,781Up 6,755Up 103,830
8. Mountain West (I-A)849*1,607,66032,809Dn 2,077Up 2,905
9. Conference USA (I-A)#1167*2,167,173*32,346Up 5,705Up 382,218
10. Western Athletic (I-A)10591,455,83724,675Dn 384Up 2,431
11. Mid-American (I-A)1484*1,496,90617,820Up 283Up 76,381
12. Sun Belt (I-A)#842*602,763*14,352Up 795Up 19,817
13. SW Athletic (I-AA)1048579,97612,083Up 1,133Up 120,065
14. Southern (I-AA)#954563,43310,434Up 647Up 44,712
15. Ivy (I-AA)842431,72910,279Up 919Dn 26,893
16. Gateway (I-AA)850*509,725*10,195Up 835Up 51,103
17. Big Sky (I-AA)849495,86110,120Up 484Up 42,976
18. Southland (I-AA)#63331,62810,049Up 373Dn 16,725
19. Mid-Eastern (I-AA)939388,8009,969Up 705Dn 65,147
20. Atlantic 10 (I-AA)1166535,2538,100Up 841Up 46,439
21. Ohio Valley (I-AA)#948343,8557,164Up 12Up 36,327
22. Div. I-AA Indep.#741244,6455,967Up 846Up 34,691
23. Patriot (I-AA)849*277,1675,656Up 445Up 42,692
24. Big South (I-AA)#529136,1014,693Dn 1,223Dn 17,710
25. Pioneer (I-AA)954*210,9493,906Up 574Up 44,367
26. Northeast (I-AA)837*89,255*2,412Up 357Up 4,983
27. Metro Atlantic(I-AA)#63362,0071,879Dn 243Dn 5,883
Div. I-A teams11773232,850,27044,877— —— —
Div. I-A neutral sites12776,61964,718— —— —
Div. I-A bowl games281,458,75752,098— —— —
Div. I-A. totals #117772*35,085,646*45,447Up 1,080Up 701,382
Div. I-AA teams1216725,200,3847,739— —— —
Div. I-AA neutral sites26855,45132,902— —— —
Div. I-AA championship game114,28114,281— —— —
Div. I-AA totals #1216996,070,1168,684Up 791Up 544,866
Div. II teams1507712,744,1773,559— —— —
Div. II neutral sites1484,4436,032— —— —
Div. II championship game17,2367,236— —— —
Div. II totals #1507862,835,8563,608Up 285Up 189,044
Div. III teams2291,1272,097,7191,861— —— —
Div. III neutral sites1650,1293,133— —— —
Div. III championship game15,0735,073— —— —
Div. III totals #2291,1442,152,9211,882Up 123Up 153,258
All NCAA teams*617*3,401*46,144,53913,568Up 444Up 1,588,324

their professional counterparts. Saturday afternoon in autumn in many college towns offers more than just a football game—it gives old college friends a chance to reconnect and colleges the opportunity to pamper wealthy alumni from whom they hope to someday receive donations.

The "tailgate" party is a ritual of college football, and parking lots near stadiums on football Saturdays are typically filled with large recreational vehicles, campers, and station wagons from which food and drinks are dispensed as fans socialize before the game. With autumn leaves crunching underfoot, the scent of grilling burgers fills the air, and the strains of the school fight song drift in from the marching band warming up nearby. Season tickets to many college teams' football seasons are prized possessions, and they are sometimes handed down from generation to generation.

In 2003 total attendance for National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I-A football was 35.1 million. An additional 11.1 million attended games at smaller schools in the Division I-AA, Division II, and Division III leagues. Average attendance in Division I was 45,447, and for the NCAA as a whole it was 13,568. (See Table 5.1.)


National Collegiate Athletic Association women's basketball attendance, 2003–2004
[NCAA varsity women's teams only; home attendance includes double-headers with men in which separate attendance was taken by halftime of the women's game]
Total teamsGame or session2003–04 net attendanceAverage per game or sesson[email protected] in total[email protected] in avg.
*Record. Net attendance includes some double-headers with men if attendance is counted by halftime of the women's game. @The 2002–03 figures used for comparisons reflect 2003–04 changes in divisional lineups to provide parallel comparisons (i.e., 2003–04 lineups vs. same teams in 2002–03, whether members or not).
source: 2003–2004 NCAA Women's Basketball Attendance, The National Collegiate Athletic Association Statistical Service, 2004, (accessed September 10, 2004)
Home attendance, NCAA Div. I*3244,2736,718,2891,572Down 177,244No change
NCAA Div. I Tournament42318,6667,587Down 15,921Down 379
Other Div. I neutral sites120136,4221,137Up 14,908Up 62
NCAA Division I totals*3244,4357,173,3771,617Down 178,257Down 2
Home attendance, NCAA Div. II2693,4561,631,098472Up 14,603Up 9
Home attendance, NCAA Div. III*415*4,912*1,039,547*212Up 39,076Up 4
Neutral-Site attendance, Divs. II & III15488,712576Up 18,527Up 99
NCAA Div. II Tournament3643,3091,203Down 11,466Down 319
NCAA Div. III Tournament4440,063911Down 800Down 18
National totals1,00813,03710,016,106768Down 147,523Down 6

The football team of the University of Michigan sold out every home game in 2003, boasting average attendance of 110,918 per game, or 103% of the stadium's official seating capacity. Other teams, including Penn State, Tennessee, and Ohio State, also averaged more than 100,000 per home game.

basketball. College basketball draws millions of fans each year. In 2003 varsity men's basketball drew a total of 30.1 million fans, twenty-five million of whom went to Division I games. The average game in Division I had 5,372 in attendance, with the entire NCAA averaging 2,339. Leading schools included Kentucky, with an average of 22,271 per home game, Syracuse, with 20,921, and Louisville, with 19,037.

soccer, baseball, and other sports. According to the NCAA Web site, more than 40,000 student athletes participate in NCAA competition each year. In addition to football and basketball, other popular college sports included soccer, ice hockey, volleyball, baseball, softball, and lacrosse, a sport gaining enthusiasts in the early twenty-first century. The 2003 NCAA lacrosse championship game was attended by 43,898. According to U.S. Lacrosse, Inc., in 2003 almost 25,000 men and 5,500 women were playing lacrosse.

women's athletics. Title IX of the Education Amendments passed by Congress in 1972 addressed gender equity in college education, and a series of amendments and later legal rulings significantly improved funding for women's sports programs in colleges, which had previously been given little money. As a result, opportunities for women in college athletics were greatly expanded, and their popularity exploded. In 2003–04 attendance at NCAA women's basketball games was ten million for all divisions. Division I schools averaged 1,617 fans per game. (See Table 5.2.)

Professional Wrestling—Is It a Sport?

Professional wrestling enjoyed a dramatic increase in popularity in the 1990s, but then peaked and fell off in the early years of the twenty-first century. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE—formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation) sold 1.8 million tickets to live events in 2003, down from a high of 2.5 million in 2001. Sales of pay-per-view television shows dropped to 5.3 million from eight million.

Wrestling fans tend to be male and young. According to Nielsen Media Research cited by the WWE in 2003, 71% of the television audience for WWE programs was male, and 29% was female. More than half were under the age of thirty-four, with 42% between twelve and twenty-four.

Professional wrestling is really athletic entertainment, since the results of the match are usually predetermined, a fact many Americans formerly did not understand. A 1999 Gallup survey found that eight out of ten Americans believed that the outcomes of most wrestling matches were fixed, compared to less than two out of ten who believed that in 1951. This may be why 81% of Americans, according to the survey, said that wrestling was not a sport. True wrestling fans, however, begged to differ. Among persons describing themselves as wrestling fans (and 18% of Americans did), 44% said that wrestling was, indeed, a sport.


Each year, American Sports Data surveys individuals in twenty-five thousand households about their favorite


Most popular team sports, 2003
source: Team Sports—An American Institution, SGMA Interntational, April 13, 2004, (accessed September 9, 2004)
Team sportNumber of participants Aged 6 and above (in millions)
1. Basketball35.4
2. Soccer (outdoor)16.1
3. Softball (regular)14.4
4. Football (touch/flag)14.1
5. Volleyball (hard surface)11
6. Baseball10.9
7. Volleyball (grass)8
8. Volleyball (beach)7.5
9. Football (tackle)5.8
10. Soccer (indoor)4.6
11. Cheerleading3.6
12. Softball (fast-pitch)3.5
13. Ice hockey2.8
14. Lacrosse1.1

sports and sports activities for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA). In 2003 the top four activities were recreational swimming, walking, bowling, and bicycling. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.)

When the SGMA ranked those sports that involved team play, it found that the most popular choice was basketball, played by 35.4 million Americans over the age of six. The second most popular sport was outdoor soccer, which was played by fewer than half this number, or 16.1 million. Regular (slow-pitch) softball was played by 14.4 million Americans, followed closely by touch or flag football with 14.1 million participants. (See Table 5.3.)

Organized sports, which required membership in a league or other official body, were also ranked by the SGMA. The results were similar to the team sport results but with several notable differences. Only 8.8 million basketball players were in organized leagues, which showed that close to three-fourths of basketball players participated only in pick-up games. Outdoor soccer had 6.8 million organized participants (just under half the total), slow-pitch softball 5.5 million, and baseball 5.3 million. Other popular organized sports included court volleyball (3.8 million participants), tackle football (2.8 million), touch football (1.8 million), indoor soccer (1.8 million) and fast-pitch softball (1.7 million). (See Table 5.4.)

Other Sports Trends

While some older sports were declining in popularity, newer ones appeared that saw rapid growth. One such example is paintball, where participants stage battles in which they shoot paint markers at each other with air guns. From the time the SGMA began tracking it in 1998, participation in paintball grew by 66%, to 9.8 million participants in 2003. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1).


Most popular organized sports among participants age 6 and older, by participation, 2003
SportOrganized participants in 2003
source: "The Most Popular Organized Sports in the U.S. Based on Participation—Age 6 and Older," in "Organized Sports Attract Millions of Americans," Superstudy of Sports Participation, SGMA International, June 23, 2004, (accessed September 9, 2004)
1 Basketball8,798,000
2 Outdoor soccer6,755,000
3 Slow-pitch softball5,549,000
4 Baseball5,343,000
5 Court volleyball3,773,000
6 Tackle football2,824,000
7 Touch football1,792,000
8 Indoor soccer1,784,000
9 Fast-pitch softball1,715,000
10 Sand/beach volleyball790,000
11 Grass volleyball408,000

Other sports that increased in popularity included snowboarding (up 269.5% from 1993 to 2003), artificial wall climbing (up 83.9% since 1998), and martial arts (up 28.2% since 1998). Interest in various types of sport shooting was also on the rise, with handgun target shooting growing 14.3% since 1998 and sport clay shooting up 31.9% since 1993. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1).


Participation in baseball, the sport once known as "the national pastime," fell during the final years of the twentieth century. During a sixteen-year period ending in 2003, baseball participation dropped 27.1%, according to the SGMA. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1). In that year the number of Americans who played fell to 10.9 million, with the sport ranked as the sixth most popular team sport in the United States (see Table 5.3) and the seventh most popular team sport for youth ages six to seventeen. (See Table 1.10 in Chapter 1.)

While enthusiasm for playing baseball may have waned, the number of Americans who said they "follow" the sport had not changed significantly since the 1930s when Gallup pollsters asked Americans whether they were fans of professional baseball. During the late 1930s, about 40% of Americans followed big league baseball. In the early 1950s, an average of 43% were fans, and a poll conducted in March 2004 reported that 45% of Americans followed baseball. (See Figure 5.2.)

When the Gallup Organization asked self-described baseball fans how closely they followed the sport, however, almost twice as many said they were less interested than they had been three years earlier (30%), than said they followed baseball more (16%). The rest (54%) said


their interest had stayed the same. Among sports fans in general, the number who followed baseball less was almost triple the number who followed it more, though more than half said their interest had not changed. The reasons for this drop in interest may include controversy over the use of steroids by star players and the variable quality of play caused by drastic differences in salary expenditures between teams. In 2003 this ranged from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' $19.6 million to the New York Yankees' $149.2 million.


Basketball is a highly popular activity in the United States. It was the most popular participatory team sport in 2003, according to the SGMA (see Table 5.3), and the second most popular spectator sport according to a Gallup poll conducted in December 2003. That poll found that 14% of Americans ranked basketball as their favorite sport to watch. (See Figure 5.1.)

Basketball players were also among the most popular athletes in the United States. According to a 2004 Harris poll by Humphrey Taylor, retired star Michael Jordan was the most popular athlete in America, a position he had held in every Harris poll conducted on the subject since 1993. Other basketball stars on the list included Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson.

According to the SGMA, a decline in basketball participation started in the late 1990s and continued into 2003, with the number playing the sport at least once during the year dropping to 35.4 million. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.) There were increasing numbers of female players, however, especially at the high school level. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, in the 2002–03 school year there were 457,165 female participants, compared to 540,874 male ones. Basketball was the most popular high school sport for girls and the second most popular sport for high school boys after football.


Although soccer has long been popular in Europe, Asia, Central America, and South America, its popularity in North America began growing during the late twentieth century. Two key events that helped boost interest were Olympic soccer tournaments held in Los Angeles, California, in 1984, and in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996.

In 1994 the U.S. Soccer organization served as the host federation for World Cup USA 1994, a record-breaking event attended by more than 3.5 million fans, and then hosted the most successful women's sporting event to that date: the Women's World Cup 1999, which was held in Pasadena, California, and attended by more than ninety thousand fans. The U.S. women won the 1999 World Cup by defending against the Chinese team in a zero to zero tie through regulation play and overtime and then defeating China five to four in penalty kicks.

Their victory provoked soccer hysteria in the United States as the winning team members appeared on television news programs, at the White House, and on the covers of newspapers and magazines. In 2001 the Women's United Soccer Association was formed as a national league, and although it attracted a number of top American and international players, financial difficulties forced it to suspend operations after the 2003 season, which had featured eight teams playing a total of eighty-four games to 560,000 spectators. A 2004 Harris poll by Humphrey Taylor found that of America's favorite female athletes, the third most popular was soccer star Mia Hamm.

Several other professional soccer leagues, both male and female, have been formed in the United States. The largest, Major League Soccer (MLS), is a male league. It featured ten teams that played a total of 150 games during the 2003 season. Total attendance for the year was 2.2 million, or an average of 14,898 per game. Two expansion teams were to be added for the 2005 season, taking the place of a pair of clubs that had only lasted from the league's first season in 1996 through 2001.

While U.S. soccer had not developed the major spectator following of such sports as baseball and football, it had become extremely popular as a participatory sport. According to the SGMA, 17.7 million Americans over the age of six played soccer at least once during 2003, about the same as in 2002 but down from the nineteen million who participated in 2001. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.)

An SGMA analysis of sports participation found that the number of "core" soccer players—those who played fifty-two or more days per year—was rising, increasing from 3.8 million in 2000 to 4.1 million in 2002. The total number of players over eighteen increased by 30% during that time, from 3.9 million in 2000 to 5.1 million in 2002. Soccer was eighth among the most popular frequently played sports for youth aged six to seventeen, according to the SGMA, with nearly 2.4 million children and teens who played more than fifty-two days per year in 2003. (See Table 1.10 in Chapter 1.)

In 2003 the national organization U.S. Youth Soccer had 3.2 million registered players between the ages of five and nineteen. Youth aged ten to fourteen comprised 48% of U.S. Youth Soccer members, with those under ten making up another 37%. The remaining 15% were between fifteen and nineteen. Some 55% of players were male, and 45% were female. An estimated 75% of all registered soccer players in the United States were members of the organization. Its programs were administered by a network of fifty-five state associations staffed by more than 300,000 coaches and 500,000 volunteers.


In 2003 bowling ranked as America's most popular participant sport, according to the SGMA, with fifty-five million players. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.) However, according to the American Bowling Congress (ABC), the largest organization of bowlers in the United States, serious participation was declining. In 1998 the organization reported total membership in men's, women's, and youth leagues of 4.2 million, but this fell to 3.2 million in 2003. The ABC reported that slightly more men than women bowled and that approximately one-third of bowlers were under the age of seventeen.

In an attempt to increase participation, many bowling centers have been upgraded and modernized to enhance the image of both the sport and the facilities. Although the overall number of bowling alleys and centers declined from 6,857 in 1998 to 6,070 in 2003, according to the ABC, the consolidation of centers resulted in the closing of a number of antiquated bowling lanes, some of which were replaced by new state-of-the-art facilities. Many of these featured attractive decor, updated scoring and playing equipment, quality food service, and other entertainment, and were built in better locations. Some "megacenters" also provided access to golf driving ranges, basketball, skating, billiards, and even microbreweries.

Other changes were being made to reinvigorate the image of bowling and attract the youth market. The industry introduced higher-performance bowling balls at more popular midrange prices and developed products and promotions designed to attract younger players. During certain times of the week many bowling centers offered "Rock 'n' Bowl" or "Cosmic Bowling"—bowling under ultraviolet lights with lanes, pins, and bowlers set aglow.

Bowling was most popular in the northern industrialized states. Although it had also experienced a drop in participation, Detroit was considered the bowling capital of the United States, and Michigan led the nation in the number of league members, with 289,931 in 2003, although it was only fifth in the number of bowling centers, with 369. Pennsylvania (408), New York (401), Wisconsin (379), and Ohio (376) had the most centers, according to the ABC.


Billiards is another popular participation sport in the United States. In 2003, 40.7 million Americans played billiards at least once, up 15.4% from 1987 when 35.3 million people played, according to the SGMA in its 2004 Super-study of Sports Participation. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.)

According to a 2001 SGMA survey, about nine million Americans played pool frequently—more than twenty-five times per year—and the number of people who named billiards as a favorite activity increased 22% from 3.6 million in 1990 to 4.4 million in 2000.

The favorable image of billiards was reflected in a changing demographic player profile, one that was younger and more often female than in years past. From 1990 to 2001 the number of players aged twelve to seventeen grew 20%, while the number of female players rose 9.4%. Growing attention to female players was reflected by the ESPN cable network's decision to increase coverage of the Women's Professional Billiard Association Tour for the period 2004 to 2006.

One of the industry's efforts to boost participation was to try to convert casual players into more frequent, serious players. The Billiard Congress of America, the sport's governing body, cultivated a system with more than 450 leagues and fifty thousand members and initiated a national tournament system to generate greater frequency of play in poolrooms across the country.

Pool halls were no longer limited to dark and dreary back rooms of bars. Billiard and pool tables could be found in a variety of sites, including upscale multi-activity entertainment centers, which might include video games, basketball hoops, indoor golf, sports bars, satellite-networked trivia games, and restaurants. Billiards and pool were also springing up in food courts, at large military bases, and in college student centers. Even traditional pool halls had changed; many were better lighted and more "wholesome" in decor. Some did not serve alcohol. These changes had not only increased the availability of billiards and pool but had also made the environment in which they were played more appealing to those who might not try the games otherwise.


Through the 1960s, tennis was popular primarily among the affluent. The game became "fashionable" and gained broader participation in the 1970s, but industry experts reported that many tennis players turned to aerobics and other fitness activities in the 1980s. In 1987 the SGMA reported that 21.1 million Americans played tennis. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.)

In the 1990s tennis participation declined further, with the total number of U.S. tennis players six years of age or older falling to 19.3 million in 1993 and then to 16.9 million in 1998. The trend was reversed in the early years of the twenty-first century, however, as participation climbed from a low of 15.1 million in 2001 to 17.3 million in 2003, according to the SGMA. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.)

The increase in participation was attributable in part to a five-year, $50 million program launched during the 1990s. Called USA Tennis Plan for Growth, it offered free lessons around the country. By 2001 more than one million people had received lessons in six hundred cities, and in 2002 it was extended for another five years in an attempt to further boost the number of tennis players.

Another factor helping increase interest in tennis was the widespread popularity of several professional players. In a 2004 Harris poll ranking of favorite female sports stars, the top two named were sisters Venus and Serena Williams, with Anna Kournikova placing sixth and retired star Chris Evert ninth. Although no tennis players made the 2004 list of most popular stars of both sexes, in 2003 the list had included Serena Williams and Andre Agassi.


Golf was the fifteenth most popular sport to play in the United States in 2003, according to the SGMA. (See Table 1.7 in Chapter 1.) Although the total number of golfers grew 4% between 1987 and 2003, from 26.3 million to 27.3 million, it was down almost 10% from a high of thirty million in 1998. (See Table 1.6 in Chapter 1.) Professional golf also had a strong following as a spectator sport. A December 2003 Gallup poll found that it was the seventh most popular sport to watch, just behind auto racing and just ahead of soccer.

According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), the number of "core" golfers (those aged eighteen and older who played a minimum of eight rounds per year) increased from 12.6 million in 2002 to 13.2 million in 2003. They averaged thirty-seven rounds per year. Occasional golfers (one to seven rounds per year) increased by 4% to 14.2 million, while junior players declined by 10% to 5.5 million.

The stereotypical golfer is sometimes seen as an older male, and an NGF profile compiled in 2002 supported this image to some extent. The organization found that 78% of golfers were male, and 33% were over age fifty. Almost half (45%) were between the ages of eighteen and thirty-nine, however.

As of December 31, 2002, there were 15,827 golf facilities in the United States, according to the NGF. Of these, 11,501 were open to the public, with the remainder being private courses.

As an outdoor sport, golf is best enjoyed in warm, sunny weather. Not surprisingly, the states with the most golf courses were Florida (1,073) and California (912). Other top states included Michigan (854), Texas (838), and New York (813). Not all of these were full eighteen-hole courses—the NGF counted only 14,725 eighteen-hole equivalents, with a total of 265,050 golf holes.

Industry experts predict that the aging of America will benefit golf participation, especially as baby boomers reach retirement age, but that cost and convenience of play are major obstacles to growth. The cost of development and maintaining courses translates into a high fee for play, which discourages people of moderate means and those who are just beginning and not yet regular players.

In 2002, according to the NGF, golfers spent $24.3 billion on equipment and fees. Of this total, $19.7 billion was for green fees and golf club dues. "Avid" golfers (twenty-five or more rounds per year), who comprised 23% of all golfers, spent 63% percent of this total.

Golf's popularity among players and spectators has benefited immensely from the remarkable career of golfer Tiger Woods. The young, talented, and charismatic golfer has encouraged young people to take up the sport, and he has become a celebrity known throughout the world. A January 2004 Harris poll by Humphrey Taylor found that public regard for Woods was greater than for every other living athlete save basketball's Michael Jordan. He was the only golfer to make the Harris top ten list.