Zach Halvonik, Head Golf Professional at LedgeRock GC in Reading, Pa., discusses how his club plans to keep the positive gains from 2020, which included a 35% rounds increase and over 60 new members, going in the new year. “To build upon 2020, strong communication through texts, push notifications, e-mails and social media will keep members informed about what is happening at the club and help us continue to grow our operation,” he says.
It was a tough start to the year for Zach Halvonik, Head Golf Professional at LedgeRock Golf Club in Reading, Pa. Like many clubs, LedgeRock had to completely shut down its operation because of COVID-19 and it was unclear how long it would have to remain closed, which led to a lot of anxiety for members and staff.
Fortunately, LedgeRock was allowed to re-open on May 1, which is usually when rounds start to increase at the club.
“From the first day we opened, we felt the pent-up demand for golf,” Halvonik says. “Over the first month, our rounds were up 30% over the previous May. The increase in rounds continued over the entire season, as it did at almost all courses this year.”
How did the pandemic affect golf at your club?
We had to do some things differently in our operation. We really made it a priority to sanitize all parts of the golf carts as they came off the course to keep members safe. Also, it seemed as though the rules changed every few weeks, with no advance warning as to how many people could ride in a golf cart. This made it very difficult to run events and book tee times, because we did not know when the rules would change.
In addition, we started using tee times for the first time in LedgeRock’s history to help with social distancing. All of our golf events were changed to tee times as well, to prevent congregating before and after events.
What were the positives you experienced in 2020?
We were lucky to be one of the few industries to not be negatively affected by the pandemic. I’m sure many resorts and destination clubs were affected a little more, but being a home club to so many members, we were able to provide a safe sanctuary for our members to utilize during the scariest times.
Our rounds ended the season up 35% from 2019, and we added over 60 new members from 2019 as well.
This year also made us all a little more creative in how we conduct golf events. It is easy to just copy events year after year, but this year made us rethink how we can safely run golf events, and there were many positive things we took away from that. For example, the mobile scoring we did for most of our events this year was well-accepted. It is a feature in Golf Genius and allows members to enter their hole-by-hole score and view other players’ scores in the field as well.
And what were some of the new challenges?
It was a challenging year in many regards. Staff safety was a top concern for us, and we wanted to make sure they followed all the protocols to keep themselves safe. In the club industry, we were essentially front-line workers with how many members and guests we came in contact with each day. If we didn’t protect ourselves, it would have been hard to serve our members and guests on a daily basis.
With the increase in play, the course was under more strain this year and our maintenance staff had to work hard to maintain it to our high standards. Many of members preferred riding solo, which certainly adds extra strain on the course. Our Golf Course Superintendent, Alan FitzGerald, and his staff did a tremendous job keeping the course in great shape all season.
In addition, food and beverage was a challenge at most establishments this year, and we were no exception. Indoor dining was limited almost all year, and even when it was allowed, most members felt more comfortable outside. This made dining a lot more weather-dependent than in previous years and challenged our staff to find ways to accommodate members’ needs and preferences. Our Clubhouse Manager, Norris Waters, added a lot more outdoor dining into grassy areas that we had previously never used. This allowed us to accommodate more people, while still abiding by the government regulations.
What do you expect to see in 2021?
I expect that golf across the country will remain as popular as it was in 2020. If people continue to work from home into the foreseeable future, I do not see this trend declining. Golf’s biggest flaw is that it requires a lot of time to play, but now that people do not have a commute each day, I think many people are using that found time to golf.
To build upon a strong 2020, I think strong member communication can help us continue to grow our operation. We will use texts, push notifications, e-mails and social media to continue to keep members informed about what is happening at the club.
What lessons did you learn from 2020 that you will carry over into this year?
I wouldn’t say it is a lesson, but it really reminded me how important it is to have the right staff in place. I spoke with many head professionals this season who were short-staffed and were running in circles all season. Luckily, I was able to find a strong staff over the winter and continued to add in certain areas over the course of the season, which prevented any of us from burning out as the year progressed. All head golf professionals need a strong support staff to make their operation work efficiently.