Fairplay Exchange social golf betting
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The social route to rebooting golf betting

Billy Gowing, Co-Founder and Managing Director of social betting exchange Fairplay Exchange, outlines how a gap can be bridged between wagers on casual games of golf and betting on live golf events with operators.


There can be little doubt golf is a sport experiencing considerable growth. Last August, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrew’s (R&A) announced an additional 10 million adult golfers are playing the sport worldwide since 2016. The R&A’s Global Golf Participation Report showed there are now 39.6 million on-course golfers across both nine-hole and 18-hole courses in R&A-affiliated markets. This is up from 29.6 million on-course golfers in 2016.

The trend has even managed to withstand the Covid-19 pandemic; participation numbers have continued to increase since the total of 34.5 million for 2020 was recorded. 

About 4.5 million of the 39.6 million total can be attributed to Great Britain, a country which offers more than 3,000 courses, more than any other country in Europe by some distance. England alone places fourth on the list of most adults participating in golf with 3.4 million players, behind Japan (8.1 million), Canada (5.6 million), and Republic of Korea (5.4 million). 

While golf may not have traditionally been seen as a ‘cool’ sport to play, it is certainly on the right path and is likely to keep moving in one direction.

Betting numbers dip

Where this data is not necessarily reflected, however, is in online betting on golf in Great Britain. Figures provided by the Gambling Commission show wagering on golf is yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. For the 2018/19 financial year, turnover from betting on the professional game reached £272.4m. For 2022/23, this was £243.9m.  

What looks particularly concerning for operators is the revenue they have managed to generate from betting on golf in recent times. Gross gambling yield for golf in April 2022 to March 2023 was £8.3m; this was down from £27.4m the previous year. These figures may be slightly uneven given there was a Ryder Cup in the 2021/22 financial year, and of course golf results can at times be volatile, but this was still down by some way. 

In comparison, betting on tennis in 2022/23 turned over £1.33bn, leading to GGY of £86.2m, while betting on cricket in the same period turned over £717.7m, leading to GGY of £46.1m. There are some variables that impact on this kind of data, such as the frequency of matches and significant events, but these are signs that golf has some catching up to do. 

A different story

While those figures indicate a stagnation in betting on golf with operators, there is another type of platform which can show a completely different story. Since Fairplay Exchange launched in April 2023, we’ve found golf to be our most popular sport. A total of 51% of bets made with us have come from friends playing against each other on the golf course, and we do not see that trend as being particularly likely to change even as we continue to grow. 

For anyone who is unaware, Fairplay Exchange allows users to wager with their friends on anything they like. This is not a common concept in the industry, as social betting exchanges tend to focus on one particular market, such as fantasy football leagues. Players sign up and make their deposit, without having to chase each other for cash. 

From personal experience, it’s been very rare to ever play a game of golf that did not involve some kind of wager, whether that’s on which player came out on top of the leaderboard, who could drive the ball furthest, or who could get closest to the green. 

In 2022, Golf Datatech released a study based on a survey of 1,000 serious golfers, where 84% of respondents said they were likely to wager on their own golf game while playing. If this were to be extrapolated and reflect the global participation numbers, this would mean more than 33 million players would be betting on their own golf games. The size of this market could prove to be incredibly valuable to sports-betting operators if it can be tapped into effectively. 

All this information would suggest there is a gap that needs to be bridged between friends wagering on the golf course and those same players feeling inclined to bet on professional golf with an operator.

An additional offering

One potential way to do this would be for operators to include this technology within their offering. This can act as a useful acquisition and retention tool, where players could sign up to wager against their friends rather than the bookmaker itself, and the operator can adapt to this accordingly. 

After James has accepted a £10 wager against Harry for example, the bookmaker could then prompt them both, asking if they would like to place a bet on Rory McIlroy to win the Masters. For many players, this could be a more realistic route to betting on golf than having to make a deposit and wager on a golf tournament from the outset. 

The idea that all sports-betting depositors must be driven to an operator by live sporting events is not necessarily true. Depositing initially via a social betting exchange is an effective means to not only utilise an untapped golf betting market, but also to help provide a more comfortable experience for people who may not be used to betting on sports.

Once again, this is based on personal experience. We have run a few golf days with our customers where we have invited everyone to have a bet at Fairplay. Not for the first time, we received plenty of feedback suggesting players would be willing to bet via an exchange, despite not usually being inclined to bet with a sportsbook. 

This type of peer-to-peer product could provide a useful edge in the never-ending fight for market share in an extremely competitive industry. This is also where golf has an edge over other sports like cricket and tennis, and by offering an exchange like this, operators can provide something that benefits both sides. 

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