The golf business may one of the biggest beneficiaries of the pandemic. Golf at the beginning of 2019 was at a precarious state of decline. Golf rounds were steadily dropping, courses were closing, country club membership initiation fees were dropping significantly and waiting lists disappeared. Golf took too long, was too hard a game to learn and play and was viewed as upper class snobbery. Alas, the pandemic arrived and by March 2020-most parts of the world were in lockdown including the golf courses. By April, somebody figured out that it was pretty safe to be outside and by May, golf courses were beginning to reopen. It was somewhat humorous thinking about it now, as pins had to stay in on the greens and many courses produced devices that enabled you to take the ball out of the hole without touching the hole. Rakes were removed from the bunkers as the prevailing attitude was that Covid could be caught on surfaces touched by humans. All of a sudden, golf was the one of the few activities you could actually do outdoors with any type of group involvement. Private clubs started to reopen with many not allowing any guest play whatsoever. With the general restrictions in travel especially by air, local golf venues became the primary entertainment activity even for millenials. How many video games can you actually play every day without going stir crazy? Today in November 2021, it’s almost impossible to plan to play golf anywhere and it’s actually difficult in many private clubs. Some examples:
–Bandon Dunes is completely sold out through 2022 and will shortly begin to accept reservations for 2023! Oh by the way, at Bandon you pay up front for your reservation and you will not get a refund if you have to cancel. Two years ago, I had to negotiate to the top of the company to get a refund for a player that was being treated for cancer. We actually had to supply proof to get the refund.
–Want to play Pebble Beach for a mere $575? If you want to play on this hallowed ground of American golf, you will not only have to pay this outrageous greens fee but you have to stay at the Pebble Beach lodge for a minimum stay of three days at rooms that range from $800-$1500/night. Oh by the way, foursomes go off the first tee every ten minutes of every day of the year. In 2019, Pebble Beach was offering discounts and special deals to play the course.
–Want to play the South Course at Torrey Pines in San Diego, California, home of the 2008 and 2021 US Opens. Well if you are not a resident of San Diego, you’ll get your tee time if you stay at the Torrey Pines Lodge adjoining the golf course. Ah, but 85% of the tee times are taken by San Diego residents leaving people who stay at the Lodge for the remaining times. So usually what happens, the Lodge has rooms but there are no tee times or there are tee times but no rooms.
–Want to play a public golf in Northern California, be prepared to start calling 2-3 weeks ahead of time. A collegiate golf team wanted to play a practice round before their scheduled tournament in Northern California. I advised them of many possible venues three weeks before the day they wanted to play. Result: zero reservations available at every public golf course in the Monterey, California area.
All of a sudden golf is cool. Price is no object. Public/private golf clubs are raising green fees to outrageous sums and everyone is paying these fees. One private club charges a very high green fee, cart fee and a reservation fee. (sounds like Spirit Airlines). You can’t even play in golf tournaments unless you book your spot immediately. I was 65th on the waiting list of a club’s member guest event, four months before the event was held. For a tournament that I have been playing for years that is held at the end of December, there are no spots left for a tournament that started signups in late August. National auctions to benefit charities have sprung up with people willing to spend thousands of dollars for a chance to play at some of the country’s treasures in Long Island, New York, Massachusetts and Florida. Related sales of golf equipment, devices and self help tools are setting records. Golf club manufacturers are doing demonstrations of their wares all the time and custom fitting their clients to try and buy a game. In 2019, these manufacturers might visit a club once or twice a year-in 2021, they show up every month. Golf teachers, who seemed to be the province of the elite country club, are now in demand everywhere and you can’t even a schedule a lesson with a teacher. I need to schedule my teacher at least a week in advance and sometimes more.
All of these factors have arisen in the pandemic world we live in. In 2019, none of these situations existed. Golf’s renaissance is certainly not a bad thing and it’s nice to see that the game has taken a new place in the world of sport. The PGA Tour is as popular as ever with a complete roster of new stars and the Ryder Cup in their possession. The LPGA Tour is also as popular as ever with stars such Nelly Korda starting to make a dent against the dominance of the Korean players. It’s all good but it is frustrating to those that had virtual complete accessibility to the game. The numbers of participants, thanks to the pandemic, are showing up and beginning to realize what those that have played the game for years always knew-golf is really a pretty good game–even better than Grand Theft Auto!