(Golf course at Portland Sea Dogs’ Hadlock Field)
Teams in Portland, Maine, Indianapolis, Ind. and Pensacola, Fla. have successfully introduced opportunities to play variations of golf, including chip-and-putt, target golf and disc golf, after the cancellation of all minor-league seasons because of the coronavirus. Former Masters champion Bubba Watson, a minority owner of the Pensacola franchise, suggested golf-related events to help bring new sources of revenues to its stadium, which has also become an Airbnb for socially distanced group gatherings.
With no baseball this season, several minor-league teams have turned to golf to keep their venues alive, Front Office Sports reported. Teams like the Indianapolis (Ind.) Indians, Pensacola (Fla.) Blue Wahoos, and Portland (Maine) Sea Dogs have found success turning their stadiums into actual golf courses and/or also offering target golf and disc golf as an alternative to coming to watch a game.
The concept stems from when, during the 2015 offseason, Major League Baseball’s San Diego (Calif.) Padres turned Petco Park into The Links by Callaway, a nine-hole ballpark golf experience created in conjunction with the well-known golf brand, Front Office Sports reported. It proved to be such a popular idea that it has returned every year since.
While the Padres were becoming one of professional baseball’s first clubs to go through with such a redesign, Geoff Iacuessa, President and General Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, was taking notes on how it could be done, Front Office Sports reported.
“We saw the pictures and videos of it and thought, ‘That might be something pretty neat to try here at our ballpark,’” Iacuessa said. “Then a couple of years ago, [the minor leagues’ Hartford, Conn. Yard Goats] did it as well at their ballpark,” he continued. “It was something that we kept looking at for potentially doing in the fall after one of our seasons and hadn’t been able to pull it off yet but, with everything going on this year, I thought it was a good time to give it a try.”
After the minor-league baseball season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Front Office Sports reported, the Sea Dogs worked for roughly a week to build a nine-hole golf course on the Skybox level at the club’s Hadlock Field in Portland (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/minor-league-baseball-field-to-become-temporary-nine-hole-golf-course/). A member of the Sea Dogs’ creative-services team then began designing the layout of the holes and calculating the total distances and slopes.
After putting finishing touches on signage and scorecards, the Sea Dogs’ golf transformation was complete and ready for sale at $30 per person, Front Office Sports reported. When the club began selling tickets for the first experience from July 9 to 12, Iacuessa said, all 220 spots sold out in only one day.
After the initial success they saw, the Sea Dogs added four more days of golf from August 6 to 9, Front Office Sports reported. The plans for that event vary slightly from the inaugural event, with customer being able to book tee times every three minutes instead of six.
Within a day of going online, Iacuessa said, 300 of the 440 tee-time slots had already sold; as of July 29, only 25 tee times remained open for the entire four-day spectacle.
Iacuessa has even gone as far to say that golf will be a part of the Sea Dogs’ event plans this fall, Front Office Sports reported, but declined to comment on how much revenue the Sea Dogs have generated from their foray into golf, say only, “Nothing’s going to make up for what we’ve lost with the season.
“But that’s no reason to sit on your hands and not do anything,” he added. “I think we, like many teams, are just trying to get as creative as possible to do events and create some revenue, but to also be able to stay connected with the community.”
The Indianapolis Indians have announced that from August 28 to 30, their ballpark will turn into “The Links at Victory Field,” a nine-hole golf venue that will be open to individuals ($39 for nine holes), foursomes ($140 total for nine holes), and groups of 10 people ($500 per hour) who want to reserve private bays in the stadium’s Yuengling Landing area, Front Office Sports reported.
Nine elevated tee boxes will be spaced throughout Victory Field, with all nine greens located on the baseball diamond, Front Office Sports reported. Five of the nine tee boxes are located in various locations around the left and right field sections, two are placed in the upper deck, and holes eight and nine will be situated within the stadium’s new Elements Financial Club behind home plate.
“The golf outing was just one of a number of events that we had thrown out there as an idea,” Cheyne Reiter, the Indians’ Director of Communications, told Front Office Sports. “There were a couple of other minor league teams spread across the country that had come out publicly [with golf events] that they were looking to host at their stadiums and we thought, why not us? It’s a great opportunity for people to roll over some of their ticket credits from the 2020 season into a potential outing for themselves or for a foursome at Victory Field.”
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos, which got attention for their unique efforts without baseball, such as listing their stadium on Airbnb, got an idea to appeal to a different kind of golfer from minority owner and former Masters champion Bubba Watson, Front Office Sports reported.
When the pandemic struck in mid-March, Watson came to the Wahoos and asked if he could help add a disc golf course onto the club’s Admiral Fetterman Field, Front Office Sports reported. Donna Kirby, the Blue Wahoos’ Vice President of Operations, had never heard of the game, but was intrigued by the idea. She and her colleagues began putting numbers together, gathering equipment and eventually rolled out professional baseball’s first-ever nine-hole disc golf course on May 15.
As many as 30 multiplayer teams have come out in a single day to the Blue Wahoos’ disc golf course, which is only open on weekends, Front Office Sports reported. While Kirby admits it does not drive nearly as much revenue as the team’s Airbnb listing, she knows that this non-baseball season is not about making money. The focus for the Blue Wahoos in finding alternatives to fill the baseball void is two-fold: keeping their 24 full-time employees on staff and making themselves available to the Pensacola community.
“We haven’t furloughed anybody, so keeping everybody on staff has been our number-one goal,” Kirby said. “And then number two, providing an outlet for the community so they’ve got a destination point that is safe, secure and family-friendly.”
“Money is way down at the bottom of the list,” Kirby added. “As long as we can cover our payroll and keep our staff employed, that’s our number-one goal.”
From July 30 to August 2, Front Office Sports reported. the Blue Wahoos hosted “Eagles in the Outfield,” a Topgolf-inspired golf competition where a dozen targets will be set up in the outfield and golfers will aim to hit them with their tee shots from stations beyond the centerfield wall.
While no one expected at the start of the year that minor-league baseball teams would be turning to golf to keep their clubs alive, that’s just the nature of the business right now, Kirby told Front Office Sports.
“You have to be able to pivot with what we’re dealing with right now,” Kirby said. “We’re going from being a baseball team to being a special events company.”
“As people’s behaviors change, the golf course has been a great place where, with COVID-19, people can socially distance,” Brad Horn, a public-relations professor at Syracuse University and sports PR professional, told Front Office Sports.
“It’s innovative, it’s unique and it also promotes an experience, and those are the three key areas where minor-league baseball has been so successful over the years,” Horn added about using stadiums for golf and golf alternative. “ Not every club has the groundskeeping talent to ensure that their field is not going to be chipped up with golf. But given that there’s no other product that really needs the field of play right now, it continues to show ingenuity and serve an important role locally, in terms of relevance and getting name recognition out there.”