CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – As more Americans hit the links, the golf industry is teeing up big business in South Carolina.

The Palmetto State has cemented itself as a top golf destination in recent years as millions of people searched for fun, safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had quite a problem during the initiation of the COVID period and as we became obvious to be a healthy sport to participate in…we began to see a lot of traffic funneling to the state because of that,” Executive Director of the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association (SC GOA) Terry Sedalik said. “It was something that people could do in a healthy way.”

In 2021, the sport generated roughly $3.3 billion in sales, according to a survey conducted by SC GOA and released by the S.C. Department of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism.

“I suspect now that in 2023 that number has significantly increased,” Sedalik said. “All businesses are cyclical and we were afraid that was going to happen during COVID and it had the exact opposite effect.”

It also contributes to more than 40,000 jobs, $1.5 billion in wages and income, and drives more than $370 million in federal, state, and local taxes.

“Of all the admission taxes collected in south carolina, golf pays 44% of them,” Sedalik explained. “So, it’s a tremendous income source for the state and an economic driver for the state.”

The industry’s boost can be partially attributed to a growing partnership between the state and the Professional Golfers Association (PGA). Last month, the PGA TOUR inked a multi-year deal with Discover South Carolina that will designate the state’s tourism agency as an official tourism sponsor of the organization.

Annually, the state hosts the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island, the BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greenville, and the newly-announced Myrtle Beach Classic at Dunes Golf and Beach Club.

Officials say both professional and amateur tournaments help attract visitors to South Carolina’s more than 350 scenic courses–which saw a nearly 14% increase in foot traffic in 2021.

“We have some very well-recognized and very popular golf courses in South Carolina,” Sedalik said. “Last year we got tremendous exposure when Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship here and that’s still paying dividends for the community.”

But, the industry’s impact extends far beyond the fairway. Golf generates more income than any other single entertainment or recreation activity in the state with visitors on a golf trip spending an additional $1.1 billion off-course, according to SC GCOA.

“When people travel for golf, they’re going to need lodging, they’re probably going to need air transportation depending on where they’re coming from,” Sedalik said, noting that most out-of-town golfers come from the Midwest, North Carolina, and Georgia.

In 2021, Myrtle Beach was the top golf destination in the state, followed by Hilton Head Island and Charleston.

The industry’s boom in South Carolina echoes a similar trend seen nationwide wherein more Americans are playing golf than ever before.

According to a report released by the American Golf Industry Coalition on Wednesday to coincide with National Golf Day, roughly one in seven people played golf in 2022, resulting in $101.7 billion in direct economic impact.

“If we get just a significant piece of that — people coming and wanting to play somewhere other than their home course — that’s extremely significant.”