The Surprising Business That Outnumbers McDonald's In The U.S.

It involves a sport that takes up a whole lot of space.

Take a look at your surroundings, and it seems like no matter where you are, you'll find the Golden Arches glowing in the distance. With roughly 13,000 McDonald's scattered across the United States, there's often at least one of its restaurants just a stone's throw away. However, as much as we think about McDonald's as an all-consuming American empire, you might be surprised to learn that there are more golf courses across the country than McDonald's locations.


Golf courses outnumber McDonald’s in the U.S.

Since golf courses take up so much space, it's hard to believe they could outnumber our Big Mac purveyors. In an article on defunct courses published last month, The New York Times wrote that there are an estimated 16,000 golf courses in the U.S., a number that easily surpasses all 13,000 McDonald's locations.


That statistic intrigued Nathan Yau of the data visualization site FlowingData, who put together some maps detailing the distribution of McDonald's stores versus golf courses across the country. Yau also provides some analysis and key takeaways on how this is possible.

Most McDonald’s locations are clustered in cities

Population density is a big factor in determining where McDonald's locations are opened up, and so many McDonald's locations are naturally concentrated in cities and major urban areas.

According to the FlowingData mapping, the area of the country with the highest density of McDonald's locations is East Los Angeles, which is home to 110 locations within a 10-mile radius; Yau attributes this to the fact that McDonald's originated in Southern California. The runner-up is the area situated just outside Chicago, with 88 locations. Fun fact: McDonald's corporate headquarters is situated in Chicago and formerly sat in the suburbs, so the high concentration of restaurants here makes sense, too.


Golf courses are spread more evenly across the country

The presence of golf courses around cities is still fairly high, according to FlowingData's map, but there's a noticeable difference in their location versus how fast food chains are distributed. Many courses are evenly spread out across the United States, and this isn't just because golf requires a lot of space—it's because these facilities can afford to sit outside densely populated areas.


"You can have a golf course in an area where there aren't that many people, because people will travel to play golf," Yau writes. "Few people are going to travel specifically for McDonald's." Where one is a destination, the other exists to meet people where they are.

Aside from some rousing rounds of mini putt, I've never actually gone golfing. I have, however, enjoyed more than my fair share of McDonald's. If I someday decide to hit the links to work on my swing, it looks like I have a lot of options.