After significant jumps in play during the months of June and July, rounds for 2020 are now outpacing the same period from a year ago.
It almost seems inconceivable given the loss of 20 million spring rounds due coronavirus-related course shutdowns, but rounds were up 13.9% nationwide in June and 19.7% in July. The latter reflects an increase of approximately 10 million more rounds than in July 2019 and the 20% jump was the largest for high-volume summer month since Golf Datatech began the monthly tracking in 2000.
Entering August, rounds were up 3% over the same time frame in 2019, having climbed back from a 16% year-to-date deficit on April 30. More than half of the more than 16,000 U.S. golf courses were temporarily closed in late March and throughout April due to the pandemic.
Indications are that play and engagement appears to have been almost as good in August, based on anecdotal feedback from operators and a number of golf course management companies.
“We are seeing a surge in rounds played at all of our properties,” KemperSports CEO Steve Skinner, whose company manages more than 120 courses, said in late August. “Demand is very strong from every player type – avid golfers are playing more and a lot of new players are taking up the game. We also are seeing renewed interest in private clubs.
“Across the KemperSports portfolio, we recorded more than a 25% increase in rounds in July vs. the prior year. Rounds in August are at a similar pace. In what has been a difficult year, it is great to see so many people enjoying the game.”
NGF’s current forecast suggests that rounds could finish up 2% to 6% over last year’s 441 million, barring significant setbacks like a spell of bad weather in golf-rich areas or a virus/election-induced economic hiccup. The industry hasn’t seen a year-over-year increase of 5% or more since 2012, when an early-season heatwave contributed to a major bump in play for parts of the country usually in their offseason for golf.
At Troon, the world’s largest golf management company, indications are that the increase in summer play was consistent in August and that momentum is expected to extend into the final four months of 2020 in some fashion, said Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kris Strauss.
“It’s not all sunshine and butterflies because we’re seeing usually less (food & beverage) because of lack of events and weddings,” said Strauss. “And we’re seeing less retail in part because public operators are promoting prepaid tee times and fewer people are coming into the golf shops. Golf rounds and activity are solid, and definitely continuing strongly, but total property-wide revenues are still challenging because of other two revenue sources. We’re going to have that challenge ahead of us for another four to six months or maybe longer. It will still be a grind for operators.”
All in all, the indicators are mostly positive for a continued swell in golf demand. There are five major championships remaining (three for the women and two for the men), plus the lack of other safe and healthy activities, favorable weather in the forecast, and remote work and school for many parts of the country. All create that additional space for golfers (and prospects) to hit the links.
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