COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on tourism in Las Vegas, but golf courses—both public and private—have experienced full tee sheets thanks, in part, to heavy play from locals. In Maryland, courses initially ordered closed by the governor have experienced banner seasons and hope to continue if mild weather remains.
While the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world and put many businesses and industries in dire straits, rounds played on golf courses have increased significantly, from coast to coast and everywhere in between.
In Las Vegas, for instance, despite tourism being down significantly, rounds of golf played, according to research firm Golf Datatech, were up 22 percent in August when compared with the same month last year.
“In my opinion, we’ve seen one of the biggest influxes of new golfers or people returning to the game since Tiger Woods,” Jim Leisenring, General Manager of Angel Park Golf Club, told Vegas Inc.
Las Vegas golf writer and historian Brian Hurlburt told Vegas Inc the pandemic, which has brought periods of idle time for many, has created an opportunity for the industry.
“For the past 10 or 15 years, it’s been a common refrain from golfers to say they don’t have four or five hours to play,” said Hurlburt. “Now, people relish that opportunity to be outdoors, to be doing something for several hours. They have the time now.”
In mid-March, like most other businesses in the state, Nevada golf courses were ordered closed by Gov. Steve Sisolak, though they were allowed to reopen several weeks later, Vegas Inc reported. Some restrictions remain in place at the course, including a one-person limit for golf carts, and the requirement that players wear face coverings inside the clubhouse and on their way to the first tee.
Since visitation into Las Vegas—one of the top golf tourism destination cities in the West—is down significantly this year, many golfers populating course are locals, Vegas Inc reported. That’s even been true on the Strip, according to Wynn Golf Club Executive Director Brian Hawthorne.
“Interestingly, we have seen a heavier local presence,” Hawthorne said. “Whether you can attribute that to folks who might normally take off for the summer and didn’t this year and might have some money to spend on a unique golf experience, I’m not sure. Quite frankly, we’ve seen more activity here lately than we probably could have ever imagined.”
C+RB featured Hawthorne on an episode of Club + Resort Talks in November 2019.
Since golf courses can run the gamut from the public and affordable to the exclusive and expensive, business levels being witnessed by different operations can vary, Vegas Inc reported. And even during the hot summer, business was booming, course officials said.
“It’s happening because of a pandemic, but I think it will continue to be a good thing for the game of golf,” said Tony Blasius, General Manager at Las Vegas city-owned Durango Hills Golf Club. “Right now, the weather is almost perfect and answering phones, for us, is nuts. It’s that busy.”
It’s not just public courses that have seen increases, Vegas Inc reported. Jason Cheney, General Manager at Southern Highlands Golf Club, said memberships at private clubs are up “significantly,” along with numbers for rounds played.
“The game of golf has recaptured the interest of individuals at levels we have not seen as an industry for years,” Cheney said.
For the second straight month in August, every state in the continental U.S. witnessed a rounds-played increase of at least 2 percent, according to Golf Datatech.
Like many of their counterparts across the country, golf courses in Harford County, Md., particularly the handful that are public, were shut down in March to limit the spread of COVID-19, but bounced back when they reopened and enjoyed seasons to rival any in the past, The Baltimore Sun reported. And that trend, while the temperatures stay on the warm side, might continue. At least course personnel certainly hope so.
Bill Buzzell, Operations Manager at the Geneva Farm Golf Course in Street, Md. told The Sun he is pleased with the COVID-19 season.
“It’s been very good for golf; it hasn’t hurt this industry any,” Buzzell said.
Buzzell also recalled when the courses were closed and told The Sun the reality is that closures at that time of year were a good thing.
“It was actually a blessing in disguise for the golf courses because when they did shut the courses down in the spring, it actually gave them a chance to heal up and grow, get healthy again,” Buzzell said. “By the time everybody opened up, people were pleasantly surprised when they came back to see the conditions they were playing in.”
Head Golf Professional Ian Minnichbach told The Sun it was a good year at Mountain Branch in Joppa, Md.
“I didn’t do much in the way of equipment sales or anything like that, but I believe that the industry itself did okay,” he said. “I believe that the golfing public who decided to venture out and could get out, did whatever was necessary to play. These specials, the balls, the tees, the gloves, stuff that they needed absolutely, I couldn’t keep in stock.”
Minnichbach said he didn’t do much in club fittings and club sales, but tee times were up and, with outings, he feels Mountain Branch was up 25 percent, The Sun reported.
At Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Md., it’s been a record year, Golf Shop Manager Mike Corriggio told The Sun.
“Since Gov. [Larry] Hogan said we were open for play in the middle of May, we’ve been slammed. We’ve had the best year on record,” Corriggio said. “If the weather stays OK, we’ll be busy through the winter. We were busy last year, until the poop hit the sand kind of thing.”
At nearby Wetlands Golf Course in Aberdeen, Md., Manager Beth Boyson echoed Corriggio’s happenings in Havre de Grace, The Sun reported.
“Absolutely, we’ve been steadily busy. On nice days, people want to be outside,” Boyson said. “There’s no question, golf has been phenomenal this year.”
Boyson noted that Wetlands lost a number of outings this year, but even so, she feels they broke even, if not a little on the plus side, The Sun reported. And, like most, Wetlands still deals with COVID-19 rules and restrictions.
“The cart situation is, most of these people come together, they ride together. So it’s two people to a cart. We have maintained the stoppers in the pins, so they don’t touch the pin,” Boyson said. “Same with rakes and the water, we haven’t put those out.”
Corriggio told The Sun they are still spacing tee times and spacing players warming up on the range at Bulle Rock. Although, they have put the sand bottles for repair back in the carts.
Looking forward, these golf courses are hoping for more of the same, The Sun reported. At Geneva Farm, Buzzell said weekend players have been running in the triple digits, and some weekdays have had up to 100 per day.
“As we get to this time of year, what happens is people look the night before,” Boyson said of tee times at Wetlands. “We get a lot of bookings the day before.”
Boyson told The Sun the plan moving forward is to maintain what’s been going on for past couple of months.
At Bulle Rock, Corriggio plans to stay busy. “So, I expect us to be busy as long as the weather’s good and then if this continues, the COVID stuff, into spring, as long as they don’t shut us down, I’m sure we’ll be really busy again,” Corriggio told The Sun.
There is also the chance that if COVID-19 positivity numbers continued to rise, even golf courses could feel the severe pinch again, The Sun reported. So, as each week passes and Hogan schedules COVID-19 news conferences, these golf course managers and pros agree, there’s a slight cringe as to what will be said.
“I’ll tell you, yes and no. I think if [Hogan] decides that we’re out of business again, then things are really bad, because we’re kind of an outdoor activity. So, when he announces something is going on, I don’t initially get nervous,” Corriggio said. “If things progress the way they’re going, things aren’t turning for the good, then I guess if he keeps calling announcements, then maybe I will get nervous. But at this point, were not too, nervous. We think we’ll be okay, but who knows.”
“Yeah, every week,” Buzzell said with a chuckle, referencing the COVID-19 updates. “Most guys cut the temperature for playing off right around 40 degrees. We stay open all year. We may not get huge numbers, but at 40 degrees we still get a good number of players.”
For Minnichbach and Mountain Branch, a step back to the spring will be hurtful, The Sun reported.
“If we go back to the major restrictions that we had prior, where we had tee times every 10 minutes, single cart riders, it’s not going to be a possibility for me,” Minnichbach said. “I’ll probably have to discount golf and make people walk, if they want to play. That I could almost assure you. Limited carts in the fleet, so either do that or don’t sell tee times.”
Like the others, Mountain Branch doesn’t close unless there’s snow on the ground, The Sun reported.
“Knock on wood is that we are going into winter where there just … won’t be as many people playing golf right?” Minnichbach said. “That is what’s in our favor, the cold weather. All in all, like I said, golf is still doing well.”
Boyson cringes for multiple reasons. “Absolutely, but that’s both business wise and personally. I’d like to think that if someone wants to come out here when it’s 40 degrees and be outside, then he’ll let them do that. Get some fresh air,” she told The Sun. “Hopefully, everyone stays safe and healthy and if they don’t feel well, they don’t go out.”