Like so many other places from coast to coast, clubs across Maine enjoyed an uptick in play due to the global pandemic. Now course operators are working diligently to keep the interest at a comfortable level. “That’s going to fall back on those of us that work in the industry to do our part to be able to retain customers,” says General Manager Nick Pelotte of Waterville Country Club.
The summer of 2020 saw an influx of golfers patronizing golf courses across Maine—and every state—due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[It came down to] what kind of options you had to participate in things, not even recreationally, just in general,” Waterville Country Club General Manager Nick Pelotte said. “With all the restrictions that existed, almost anything that was indoors was not something that was happening. … People who had a lot of options and a lot of things taken from them were in search of something to do.”
It’s been two years, and the players who flocked to the Oakland, Maine course then have given no indication that they’re ready to stop, the Kennebec Journal reported. Restrictions have been eased and the state has reopened, but courses still notice a boost in business that hasn’t leveled off.
Waterville Country Club never had to cap memberships before the pandemic, but it did last year and Pelotte told the Journal it’s a possibility for this year as well.
“That suggests to me that the interest in golf is certainly still there,” he said. “It’s a little more prevalent right now than it was maybe five, 10, 15 years ago.”
Randall Anderson, the owner of The Meadows Golf Club in Litchfield, Maine, told the Journal his course has seen a surge in membership.
“We saw significant growth in membership during COVID. That has continued, we’ve not lost any of that momentum,” he said. “Membership was up about 60-plus percent for the COVID year, and [last year] we still made an increase in total numbers, the percentage was not as good, I still think we increased another 25 percent. And this year we’re on track to beat last year.”
Anderson told the Journal the sport hasn’t just drawn die-hard players.
“Probably more important is the casual golfer,” he said. “We are seeing, even at fundraising tournaments, people who have never played golf coming out to play.”
Dickie Browne, Head Golf Professional at Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro, Maine, said he’s seen this boost everywhere, the Journal reported. On the course, at the range, and everywhere in between.
“My junior clinics last year were up, I had [more than] 62 kids. My ladies clinic was the biggest I’ve ever had, I had to go to extra sessions,” he said. “Greens fees are up, membership’s up, everything.”
The activities that people couldn’t do in 2020 have returned, but Browne said the ones who gave golf a shot two years ago have been incentivized to stick with it, the Journal reported.
“I think a lot of people are invested now. They went out and got new sets of clubs, they committed to a [course], and so they’re going to get their money’s worth,” he said. “If you pay in advance for something, you want to keep doing it.”
Anderson told the Journal people introduced to golf as a result of the pandemic have seen reasons to stay with it.
“I think it’s a great overall, lifetime activity,” he said. “And it’s very community based. You can bring a family, and it’s welcoming to all ages with different levels of tees you can play.
“The courses have welcomed the new growth, given it was in a tough time, I would say. A little bit of a flat cycle. But now we’ve seen this increase, and I think a lot of us are just really appreciative of everyone who’s come out and given the game a try.”
For the people who already played golf, there’s been more of an opportunity to get to the course, the Journal reported.
“People had a lot of time on their hands, some of them because of the nature of their jobs,” Pelotte said. “Let’s say you commuted an hour to work each day. Now you’re home-based, you’ve got two hours of your day back. … That opened a lot of doors.”
Browne told the Journal he’s seen that as well.
“I think people have more spare time,” he said. “And I think a lot of people have picked it up. I think it’s a combination. You take a guy who’s only played a couple of times a month, now he’s playing five or six times a month.”
The increase in players has included men and women, as well as juniors and seniors, the Journal reported.
“We’re getting the young kids coming back around, which is great. We need that,” Browne said. “You’ve got to have a balance of all. Seniors and juniors and working guys.”
The business boost has given clubs more financial room to work with when it comes to maintaining or improving the course, working on the clubhouse or replacing carts, the Journal reported. With rising fuel costs, the business uptick has come at a good time.
“I think people have been able to pay off some of their major loans and capital infrastructure, or been able to invest in some of the needs of the course that have been delayed,” Anderson said. “With more use comes a little more cost as well. With more use, maybe you need an extra greens mower, or you need a couple more of these types of mowers or bigger pieces of equipment. There is some additional cost, but it’s not linear in terms of one for one. It did provide some breathing room from the previous stresses of the past.”
The people running these courses know they need to make sure they keep the golfers that have been coming out, the Journal reported.
“That’s going to fall back on those of us that work in the industry to do our part to be able to retain customers,” Pelotte said. “Keep them coming back and keep them enjoying the product that we have.”