Golf contributed €15.1 billion ($20.2 billion) to Europe's economy in 2012, with Great Britain and Ireland leading the charge, according to the findings of a new study.
The report, produced by Sports Marketing Surveys, the UK-based research company, on behalf of the Professional Golfers' Association and leading bodies such as the European Tour and European Golf Association, assessed economic factors across the 27 European Union nations as well as Norway and Switzerland, and found the sport to be responsible for a minimum of 180,000 full time jobs and employee wages of €4.4 billion.
The game's impact is particularly significant in Great Britain and Ireland, where it is valued at €6.1 billion, or 41 per cent of the European total.
Sandy Jones, chief executive of the PGA, said: "Golf plays a significant role both in its economic impact and also in delivering social, behavioural and sporting benefits with the PGA professional firmly at the centre of the golf industry.
"In addition golf is also a huge contributor to charitable causes in Europe and last year generated more than €85 million supporting a range of good causes."
The €15.1-billion contribution to the European economy last year compared with €15.4 billion when SMS undertook the same survey in 2006.
SMS said the slight decline is explained through the impact of the economic downturn, in particular in the traditionally strong golf tourism markets of Portugal and Spain where the countries' financial plight has impacted on investment in golf real estate.
Golf tourism does, however, still contribute strongly to the overall figure, almost €1.6 billion in 2012.
The report said: "The key markets are the winter sun destinations of Portugal and Spain, although France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are also significant and important... Golf tourism market continues to be a huge revenue generator, and the research indicated that there is a belief that the worst is over in terms of negative impact on the economy, and there is a positive view that things are getting better again."
Turkey is not a member of the EU, and therefore was not considered in the SMS study, but the country is predicted to become a serious competitor in the golf tourism market.
The Turkish Golf Federation staged the elite $5.2-million Turkish Airlines World Golf Final in Antalya last year, while the $7-million Turkish Open has been added to the 2013 European Tour schedule.
The events are being used to showcase Turkey’s credentials as a golfing destination and host of major events as it bids to stage the 2020 Olympics, which will feature the sport after it was added to the programme for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
Although golf tourism levels have remained relatively strong during the economic crisis, expenditure on new course construction is now well below that of the first five years of the 21st century.
Construction on new-builds in the last 12 months only reached €96.8 million, 98 per cent of which was generated outside Great Britain and Ireland.
The report explained: "There is a strong belief in Spain and Portugal that too much new golf course construction took place during the boom years and that it will take several years of economic growth before there are sufficient customers to sustain the courses that exist, let alone before there is a demand for more and additional construction required.
"If there is to be substantial growth in expenditure on new course construction over the next few years, it seems most likely that this will come from the emerging markets and those less developed with golfing infrastructure."