By HAORUI WANG
Global Business Journalism reporter
Imagine swinging a golf club and being able to detect the ball speed and distance immediately, not worrying about the raw weather or stumbling over the muddy lakeside searching for the lost ball.
Since the pandemic began in 2020, many activities have been limited by social distancing policies, but golf has gained in popularity during this time. Traditionally known as an expensive, upper-class sport for the middle-aged and older crowd, golf has been embraced in recent years by millennials. Younger golfers can be seen practicing in the driving ranges or playing on golf courses. According to Linchpin, a third of golfers in the U.S. are now millennials, and that statistic seems to carry over to China.
Golf’s pandemic-era popularity can be seen among students at Tsinghua University. Kang Jian, the president of Tsinghua University Student Golf Club, shared in an interview that there has been a heightened interest for golf among the university’s students since 2020.
“In past years, there were only 30 members in the club," Kang explained. "Since 2021, we have over 200 students interested in signing up. Our golf club can accept only 80 students each year and the spots are gone within seconds after being posted."
While golf course and driving ranges are the to-go places for golf, there has been rising interest in indoor golf simulators. According to Strait Research, the golf simulators market was valued at USD $1.2 million in 2019 and is expected to grow with a compound annual growth rate of 8.3% between 2020 and 2029. Furthermore, Strait Research stated that Asia-Pacific is projected to be the fastest-growing market in terms of adoption of golf and golf simulators, with an expected growth of 12% during the forecast period.
The rising adoption of indoor golf has brought much convenience to golfers. Compared to golf courses, indoor simulators are closer to the city center. They are unaffected by weather conditions and provide a comfortable environment, lower pricing and more options in terms of technology.
“I prefer indoor golf because it is very relaxing. I don’t have to care about the weather," said Kenneth Huang, a member of Tsinghua University Student Golf Club. "There are air conditions in the rooms, food and drinks are provided and I can practice at any virtual golf courses all over the world."
While stores like Golfzon, the leader in the global golf simulator market, are widely known and provide more simulators, golf products, free snacks, and VVIP luxurious rooms, students from Tsinghua University prefer to go to YiGolf.
YiGolf is an indoor golf store near Tsinghua University. The store opened in October 2021 and is located on the second floor of ShengXi Number Eight Shopping Mall in the Haidian district. The store has two individual VIP rooms and two open-space simulators. The average price for non-members is ¥320 yuan per hour for the VIP rooms and ¥220 yuan per hour for the open-space monitors. The prices are lowered by ¥100 to ¥150 yuan per hour for those who purchase a membership card and store ¥5000 yuan or more per card.
Cui Haibo, the owner of YiGolf, said that many students and residents living in the Haidian district visit the store often. Golf clubs from Tsinghua University and Peking University also partner with YiGolf, so they receive a discount for club members.
“The store usually becomes fully booked in the afternoons of weekdays and on weekends," said Cui. "Customers like to come in for a few swings and select a course to play. While playing the game, they can order food delivery to the rooms, as there are lots of food options on the first floor of the mall. They can enjoy some delicious food, have a nice chat with friends and swing a few balls."
As YiGolf is considered a small business with only four simulators, the cost is also lower, compared to other larger indoor golf businesses like Golfzon. If considering only the simulator costs, the business has been gaining a profit as the rooms get booked up easily and many customers are willing to store ¥5000 to ¥10,000 to their accounts.
However, like all businesses in China, YiGolf is subject to the vagaries of COVID-related lockdowns. Beijing restricted all indoor activities at the end of April 2022, for example. YiGolf was forced to temporarily close and the rent cost became difficult to cover, Cui said.
The store was unable to operate for more than two months, but Cui is confident that once the policies become looser, more golfers will come back to the store. He plans to open another store near the Haidian district with more simulators. When the weather is too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter, indoor golf is the perfect option for the golf lovers, he said.