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A Publication of the National Golf Foundation

Questions, Answers and Insights for Everyone Interested in the Business of Golf

What Golf Operators Said About the June ‘Surge’

by National Golf Foundation

July 2020

The early returns for golf’s post-crackdown are in, with rounds up more than 6% nationally in May — the equivalent of roughly 2.4 million more rounds than in May of 2019. While perhaps not quite as positive as some had hoped given anecdotal reports, it’s important to note that more than 10% of golf courses in the U.S. were still closed the first week of the month.

Initial data for June, courtesy of Sagacity Golf, suggests significant year-over-year gains in a number of key golf markets, among them Phoenix (+52%), Orlando (+39%) and San Francisco (20%).

But what are golf operators saying about the past month or so as the nation continues to cope with the coronavirus pandemic? Here’s a look at feedback from head professionals at facilities around the country when asked what they’re seeing and experiencing from a participation and engagement standpoint.

 

Ellis Park Golf Course (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

18-hole municipal golf course and driving range

Mark McMahon – Head Professional

“We’ve been gangbusters every day. Fiscally for our facility, we’re even from last year.”

“For us, your Monday through Thursday players are your regulars. Friday through the weekend, there’s definitely a percentage who have never played the game, but it’s something they can do that’s outside. People realize it’s one of the only things they can do that’s outside.”

“We have a lot of young guys in their late 20s and 30s playing every day. The millennials are coming out in force because they’re working from home.”

“The tee sheets are full. I’ve never seen anything like it since the ‘Tiger Boom.’ People just want to play. There was a fight for golf to stay open.  But the game has only benefited. It really has.”

“I’ve had a lot of friends ask, ‘So, are you busy?’ I tell them not to even ask me that question anymore. Everyday it’s like Groundhog Day. The tee sheet is packed from 7 am to 6 at night. And that’s everybody I’ve talked to in public golf in the state of Iowa. There’s a lot of golf and courses in Cedar Rapids and everybody is packed. Things in Eastern Iowa are definitely still trending upwards. Usually once you get to Labor Day, you’re kind of on the downhill slide. I don’t know that will be the case this year. If people are working from home, you’re not going to see a change.”

“Golf has the spotlight, so let’s take it while we can. Who knows when this happens again? I’d love for (the increased play) to be a regular occurrence, but think when life goes back to somewhat normal, play will slowly revert. But maybe this will be the change that golf needed to take more center stage.”

“We’re definitely seeing new golfers coming to the game. And they’re playing golf too, not just practicing and hitting balls. So, your staff is experiencing something that’s different, especially with people who aren’t playing often. I tell them you have to assume that everyone knows nothing – whether its pace of play or golf etiquette – so if you approach every person like that, you’re going to be happier as an employee and customer is going to be treated better. But when our staff came back for the season, many of them were like, ‘What is going on?’ I had to tell them, ‘This is the normal. Relax.’”

 

World of Golf (Florence, Kentucky)

18-hole executive course, indoor & outdoor ranges, golf simulator and mini golf

Ralph Landrum – President/Head Golf Professional

“We were shut down for seven to eight weeks after the governor’s decision. Once we got back open, it’s been unbelievable the number of people playing golf.”

“We were making everyone pay in advance – whether it’s doing an online reservation or paying by phone from their car. We were actually making it hard for people to give us money. We also spent about $10,000 to get a credit card swipe set-up on the golf ball dispenser. But they’re coming out like crazy.  In the month of May, we had about a 25% increase in green fee and cart revenue over last year. And it rained so much in May it was silly.”

“I’m seeing a lot more families. A lot more moms with kids. We’re not allowed to play youth sports yet, so there are no soccer games to go to, there are no (Cincinnati) Reds games. The only problem is there’s less personal touch. We can’t be as friendly and have to institute a lot of rules for safety purposes.”

 

Community Golf Club (Dayton, Ohio)

Two 18-hole municipal golf courses, driving range and practice facilities

Jana Dalton – Head Golf Professional

“We’re a bit unique because Dayton (permanently) closed two of its three golf facilities. So, we had to assimilate leagues, volunteers, outings. I don’t exactly know yet what’s Covid-related and what’s not Covid-related. But our play is off-the-charts ridiculous. We have 70 leagues and we’re doing 300 league rounds per day across the two courses.”

“The problem is we lost our player-development course in Kittyhawk (one of the City of Dayton facilities that shut down), which did great business as a par 3 course. And unrelated to our closings, there was another closure nearby. So, for newer golfers, we lost three driving ranges and two par-3s in the past year. The downside here is now I’m trying to juggle and figure out how to accommodate The First Tee, which is not as much of a concern this year because they’ve suspended a lot of programming, and high school golfers. Unfortunately, I have to say ‘no,’ because I don’t have room for them. It makes me sick to turn away golfers, especially from a developmental standpoint. I’m hoping when the dust settles and people go back to reg recreational habits, I’m hoping some of that player development comes back. Even among regular golfers, we have a volunteer program and they say, ‘Wait, why am I doing this, it’s hard to get a tee time.’”

“It’s like a Confetti can went off and we’re just trying to accommodate the golfers. It’s a swarm. We’re making money, but you never know. We may shut down in October for all anyone knows.”

“When it comes to kids, I’m trying to do backflips to accommodate as much as I can because it’s a cool parent-kid thing and parents are working from home. It’s such an opportunity, but at the same time we have a finite tee sheet.”

“For golf, this is an opportunity to hit the reset button on a lot of things. I don’t want to drop the ball.”

 

Lake Oswego Golf Course (Lake Oswego, Oregon)

18-hole municipal par-3 course

Tom Mueller – Head Golf Professional & General Manager

“We’re doing extraordinary business. We’ve increased our business by leaps and bounds from last year. We’ve been seeing a major uptick in rounds played and range use. What’s down is merchandise concession. We’re not really selling a lot of our impulse buys. That part is down, but revenue from play and cart usage and range are all up. We’re seeing a 20%-25% bump from a year ago and we had rainy weekends every weekend for the last month.”

“People are desperate for something to do outside that is safe. I’m responsible for relaying information to the city council on why play is up and down. What this has shown me clearly is that the notion golf isn’t popular isn’t true at all. It’s that people year after year have more options of things to do. They have a divided attention span. With Covid, there are less options. That’s why we’re seeing a lot of people we didn’t see last year. We have golf as an option again.”

“One out of every three customers is asking where the first tee is; that’s how long it’s been since they played our course. We’re the ones helping to make up revenue lost in parks system, which is being forced to cancel all activities.”

 

Wolf Hollow Golf Course (Lena, Illinois)

18-hole public course with practice facility

Doral Reining — Head Professional

“Everyday normal play has really been pretty good.  It doesn’t make up for not having events with revenue. But for having normal play, we’ve been pretty steady.

“Rounds-wise we’re probably not above last year; we’re a little short because of not having events.  When we hit June, we started doing some of our own events, but no shotgun starts. The outside outings have almost all canceled. We lost four or five in June, two in July and at least one so far in August. You’re talking outings of 120-people plus. And our F&B has been way down.”

“We made $10,000 the first weekend in June, but were still $21,000 short of a year ago because of the lost events. You string five or six of those together and it adds up. We’re in survival mode this year, but we’re doing okay.”

“I know I’ve seen some new faces. We have a few people who haven’t played here before, which is good.”

 

Continental Golf Course (Scottsdale, Arizona)

18-hole public executive course with practice facility

Marty Haughian — General Manager

“We saw higher rounds for May and June due to not a lot else to do. And we’ve been able to keep rates higher. We were hit hard in March and April, including losing almost all of merchandise as well as the restaurant, which started reopening in the middle of April.”

“The good news is that there’s still not much going on. There’s not a lot of movie theaters open, for example. Bars and restaurants are open, but people are cautious. We’re holding our own and we’re in the 110’s now temperature-wise. Because we’re in the heart of town in old-time Scottsdale, we get our share of casual golfers anyway. We have 1,800 card members that get 20% discount.”

“But we’re now getting a lot of people that hardly ever got out before. People who would come out once or twice a year are now coming out weekly.  They realize, ‘Hey, this is fun and we can get out of the house.’ Hopefully, the game will grow by people realizing if they play more, they’ll get better. We’ll see next year.”

 

Mount Si Golf Course (Snoqualmie, Washington)

18-hole public course and driving range

Scott Barter – General Manager

“It’s bonkers. I’m buried. I’m seeing play like I’ve never seen, even in the late 90’s. The other day, the first group was teeing off at 4:37 a.m. and the last tee time was at 7:30 p.m.”

“A lot of people are home. It’s given people the opportunity to take up the game. It’s one of the few games in town in terms of recreation. There are no pro sports and kids’ sports going on. With three kids myself, I’m usually running around coaching and that’s not happening.”

“What’s interesting is the pace of play is so much better. Players are keeping the flags in and it seems there’s more of an urgency to keep it moving. We’re doing 300 rounds a day. With rounds under four hours, it’s making me rethink my business model. I could do cartwheels seeing groups make the turn in under two hours at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”

“It’s just so busy we’re just trying to hold on by the reins.  Sometimes we don’t even get lunch. But it’s great. We were closed down there for a while and wondering how to make payroll, so this is the flip side.”

 

 

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