As golf course operators prepare for another desert season, they expect better results in the coming months than even the increases they saw one year ago. More players at desert golf courses is good for the revenues at facilities that saw players and rounds of golf slide downward for most of the 2010. But it also means more competition for tee times at public and private facilities as well as increased green fees for courses that can justify higher prices based on supply and demand.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have come at a better time for The Lights at Indio (Calif.) Golf Course in the spring of 2020, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.
“We got lucky, because at the time COVID came, we’d been pushing so hard to get this place out there,” said Dave Ruvolo, head professional for 18 years at the city-owned 18-hole par-3 lighted golf course. “We’re the only thing in the valley that has [lights]. A lot of people come into town but don’t know. So we pushed so hard to publicize it, and the timing was perfect.”
Like golf courses throughout the desert and across the country, The Lights has benefitted from a surge in golf that was partially sparked by the pandemic, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported. As other sports and recreational activities shut down from the coronavirus, golf was allowed to be played. The sport attracted more individuals and saw more rounds played than had been true in more than a decade.
As the surge moves into its third year and as the Coachella Valley prepares for the beginning of a new desert season, golf course operators expect better results in the coming months than even the increases they saw one year ago, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.
“We are not seeing a high drop off in golfers just because the demand is there,” said Ben Rodny, director of sales and marketing for the 36-hole Indian Wells Golf Resort. “The demand for groups, tournaments, individual players, it’s pretty hot right now.”
More players at desert golf courses is good for the revenues at facilities that saw players and rounds of golf slide downward for most of the 2010, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported. But it also means more competition for tee times at public and private facilities as well as increased green fees for courses that can justify higher prices based on supply and demand.
In its tracking of rounds played across the country this year, the National Golf Foundation confirms that the Coachella Valley remains one of the most sought-after markets for golfers, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported. While rounds played in California are down 4.6 percent this year through September compared to the same time period in 2021, and rounds in the country are down 2.5 percent, rounds in the Coachella Valley are up 12.4 percent in the first nine months of the year.
The NGF reminds people that even the small decreases in the state and the country as a whole are in comparison to 2021, when rounds of golf were up as much as 20 percent in parts of the country from 2020, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.
One reason golf continues to grow in the desert while it has flattened in other areas of the country is the Coachella Valley’s national and even international appeal as a golf destination.
“My wife and I have played in most of the areas in the United States,” said Stephen Clarke of Birmingham, England, who along with his wife was playing a variety of courses in the desert in late October, including at Marriott’s Desert Springs Resort in Palm Desert. “We had some miles we wanted to use for flights, and we thought we would come and play where the sun always shines.”
Golfing tourists are just one reason many desert facilities saw more golfers in the last 12 months than ever before, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.
“Last year was a record for us,” said Ryan Szydlowski, director of golf at the city-owned 36-hole Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert. “We had our most rounds played ever, and it is public info, so it was 100,000 rounds played, and that is about as much as we could tolerate.”
Szydlowski told the Palm Springs Desert Sun that Desert Willow’s number stems from having a variety of golfers come to the Firecliff and Mountain View courses, including residential play to hotel guests to group outings. For Desert Willow, the numbers look just as good for the 2022-23 season.
“All of our forecasting tools are tracking well. Our outings are pacing well, our weddings and other banquets are pacing well,” Szydlowski said. “Our loyalty program sold out in record time. So I feel like we will have a better year this year than we had last year.”
Rodny said the same is true at Indian Wells Golf Resort.
“That is absolutely the expectations,” Rodny said to the Palm Springs Desert Sun. “We are trying to temper ourselves, because the goal is not to fleece anybody with the highest cost in the valley. The goal is to bring golfers out onto the course and celebrate events and ensure that everyone has the best experience we can provide.”
More players means golf courses have an opportunity to charge more for their product, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported. Green fees were up a year ago, and they will go up again at some facilities in the coming months. At the Indian Wells Golf Resort, Rodny said the green fees from January through April will be $219 weekdays and $239 weekends, compared to $199 and $219 last year, when the courses were attracting more than 400 players on weekends.
“We are just trying to treat everyone who comes in here as well as we can,” Rodny said to the Palm Springs Desert Sun. “Look, the ride isn’t going to last forever. The wave rises, the wave crashes. So when the wave crashes, we are going to depend on these golfers that kind of love IWGR to come back and play even though the economy might not be in the best place then. If we give them that experience now, then they are going to come back.”
Szydlowski said Desert Willow will be increasing its green fees across all player categories as well, but perhaps won’t be looking for more players.
“I think our rates could be much higher, but we are never going to raise them a crazy amount because we want to be in a position to keep our guests for the long term,” Szydlowski said to the Palm Springs Desert Sun. “We know that it is not going to be like this forever, right? But when our outing rounds recede, which they inevitably will, we want our loyalty members and our Palm Desert residents to fill in those gaps as they happen.”
“So we don’t really see a big decrease in rounds played, we might see a shift in who is playing,” Szydlowski added.
Even as golf surges, facilities like Desert Willow and Indian Wells Golf Resort are pursuing other reasons for golfers and non-golfers to come to their courses, the Palm Springs Desert Sun reported. Rodny is helping to oversee changes to the IWGR’s Shots in the Night nighttime entertainment on the driving range and putting greens near the clubhouse, as well as the installation of an ice skating rink. At Desert Willow, new patio furniture for outdoor dining as well as a new fleet of golf carts will arrive in December and are both designed to enhance a golfer’s experience.
“So all those little things that need upgrading over the years, we are taking advantage of that right now,” Szydlowski said. “In terms of the valley, I feel like when we talk to hotel partners, they are still seeing the same trends as well.”