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Bay Area Golf Thrives in the Pandemic

by | Dec 23, 2021

The pandemic roars on through the country and the economics of golf continues to prosper as golf continues to be one of the safest activities you can partake in.  It’s also interesting that new players who gave up the game quickly in the past  because it was too difficult, are now seeing the mental and physical challenges that the game offers.  One of the unknown terrible impacts of the pandemic is the mental toll it has taken on all of us.  It’s extremely difficult to assess the magnitude of these impacts.      Golf provides a mental challenge that is apt to relax the player and cause some level of comfort from the daily grind of masks and physical restrictions.  Golf may be another version of what yoga is to mind for the yoga uninitiated.

However, the mental side of golf has multiple variables and impacts all levels of players. differently.  The most negative impact of the mental side of golf is usually experienced at the highest levels by the golf professional.    The life of the golf professional is pretty difficult competing at the highest level  so multiple mental factors enter into the mind of the professional that are similar to the same feelings that all of us experience to a degree in the pursuit of a professional career.  Many of these mental factors have to deal with decision making, risk assessment on the course and financial pressures off the course.  The professionals are so good that the difference between winning and losing is usually decided on the putting green.  Golf professionals seldom miss a shot but they will also tell you that they only hit one or two excellent shots in a round.  The mental game for the golf professional is more important than the physical game as they have mastered the physical game.  It is integrating their physical skills into the mental game of hitting the right shot in the right circumstances, assessing risk and taking risk and the entire mental aspect of putting.  At the highest levels of golf including the highest levels of amateur, the mental game of golf is often the differentiator that either produces champions or those that cannot compete for a living and have to settle for something less than the professional tour.

For the amateur, daily fee player, Golf has begun to permeate the landscape of recreation throughout the pandemic.  Courses began to open up in the March, April, 2020 time frame, which was the first authorized outdoor activity.    Of course, you could have gone biking or surfing but I can’t relate to the mental complexity of the those activities.  Golf erases the notion of being cooped inside your home or apartment without an opportunity to get some fresh air.  The game is hard to learn but rewards players of all levels with some level of achievement.  Golf should always be played with a ” glass half full, half empty” attitude always staying positive so that it’s possible that better things are to come even if you just whacked it in the woods and lost your fourth ball of the round.  Always remember the good shots and eliminate the bad shots from the memory bank.  You also have to be on an even keel to play golf with any skill.  Unlike other sports such as football, basketball–there is no momentum to be gained through emotions such as anger, aggressive behavior  or various oral expressions.  We always remember the great shots hit during a round (however, few there may be), which always brings you back to the game.  How many times has a miserable round of golf ended with a 280 yard drive down the middle or a 15 foot putt holed for a birdie.  The game can be seductive and always brings you back for another go.  A great example of the newfound popularity of the game is evidenced by public play  in the City of San Jose, California.

San Jose Municipal Golf

San Jose, California has three municipal golf courses–San Jose Municipal (“Muni”)i, Los Llagos and Rancho del Pueblo (“Rancho”).  In the last twelve months, these courses have seen an increase of 65% in the number of rounds played.  Before the pandemic, Los Llagos and Rancho were potential targets for extinction especially in view of the city’s horrific housing deficiencies.  San Jose Muni has always been a mainstay for offering public golf to the San Jose golfing public since 1968 but the latter two courses were fair game for rationalization.  Prior to the pandemic, these courses were bleeding money year after year as the overall popularity of golf was on a continuous decline nearly everywhere.  The pandemic has changed all of the economics and these operations are now solidly in the black.  Mayor Sam Liccardo, who I believe is an avid cyclist, and not a golfer,  is not convinced that this trend will continue so he believes that further commitments to public golf should be continue to be carefully considered.  I would submit that commitments to long term golf for these three courses will be a benefit to the community financially and socially.   The pandemic is going to evolve eventually into  an endemic and golf’s new participants are unlikely to renew their addiction to video game consoles.  The city wanted to divest of Rancho in 2010 and even then local citizens protested and prevented the city from following through on its potential divestments.  Politicians proposed alternative recreational issues for Rancho including turning the golf courses into recreational fields for soccer, baseball or other general uses.  Politicians continued on this track until the capital costs of conversion of Rancho into alternative uses resulted in upside-down economics–the upfront capital costs could not recouped by revenue.  Golf green fees produce revenue so an increase in demand would make Rancho self funding to cover their own costs of maintenance and supervision.  Irrespective of the politicians, the future of Rancho is bright with residents having the ability to participate in golf and new players are coming to the course all of time.  Other public and semi-private clubs in the area  are raising green fees to unaffordable levels for most of the patrons of these facilities.  In addition, Rancho provides access to The First Tee of San Jose servicing the youth of San Jose who would never have access to golf without their programs.

While the pandemic has been a scourge for our communities and our country, golf for the community of San Jose is more affordable and accessible and provides additional opportunities for seniors and youth through activities such as The First Tee. * Quote from one citizen, “This is what you would really call a community golf course, I see every type of people here–older folks, kids, different nationalities, women,”  It’s a big, big plus for us to be playing right here.”

*San Jose Mercury News, December 10, 2021

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