Trends: The Surge
2020 Has Been a Tough Year Everywhere, but Golf Has Been a Rare Bright Spot
IT IS THE ULTIMATE IRONY. A global pandemic that led to stay-at-home orders, economy-paralyzing business shutdowns and continuing restrictions on social gatherings has also led to an unexpected surge in the golf industry.
Golf courses across Southern California are sold out. Driving ranges are filled, with players waiting for hitting berths to open. The demand for lessons is as high as it’s been in recent years. Retail sales in golf equipment and supplies are setting records.
Golfers who had not played much in recent years are returning to their favorite clubs and public courses, sometimes bringing their families.
Why the sudden stampede to the first tee? Those in the industry interviewed by FORE Magazine in September — four months after Southern California courses reopened with safety protocols in place — say it’s because golf is a sport that naturally promotes social distancing while enabling social interaction outdoors, with minimal risk during this worldwide health crisis.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
“Golf is back! It’s booming right now,” said Matt Donovan, general manager at Arroyo Trabuco GC in Mission Viejo. “We’ve been sold out ever since golf courses were allowed to reopen. And the resurgence, after steady declines in the industry the last 15 years, is a deserved upswing.
“Instruction is off the charts, too. People have time to play and time to work on their game. And golf is all about spending time outdoors with your friends and family. In that respect, the pandemic has been good for the sport.”
GOLF IS BACK! IT’S BOOMING RIGHT NOW. WE’VE BEEN SOLD OUT EVER SINCE GOLF COURSES WERE ALLOWED TO REOPEN. AND THE RESURGENCE, AFTER STEADY DECLINES IN THE INDUSTRY THE LAST 15 YEARS, IS A DESERVED UPSWING.” – Matt Donovan, General Manager at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club
Eric Lohman, PGA General Manager at Monarch Beach Golf Links in Dana Point, echoed Donovan’s sentiments.
“We have essentially sold out every day since April 22. In the past, we might have sold out 20 or so of those days.”
Lohman said. “We used to be busiest between 8:30 a.m. and noon, and now we are just as busy at 6:30 a.m. and at 5:30 p.m. It’s crazy, to be honest.”
Lohman says rounds at the oceanfront resort are up 40 percent.
“We used to see people book and fill up our tee sheet about three days out,” he said. “Now, it is between 10 to 14 days in advance. But because we are doing our best to provide a safe, higher-end experience, we are not able to accommodate all of the requests (to play). Unfortunately, we have a wait list daily and have to turn away players.”
The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast has had to turn away all public play since the reopening in mid-May because of a shortage of carts needed to satisfy single-rider safety protocols on both its Ocean South and Ocean North courses.
“There’s only one course available per day, and it’s open to members and resort guests only,” said Robert Ford, the resort’s general manager of golf operations. “We’re packed … unfortunately, we can’t have the public right now. It’s all about safety.”
Despite the surge in play, another irony has manifested itself during the pandemic. While participation is up dramatically, overall industry profits are not — because most courses have lost significant revenue from restaurants and bars that were closed for indoor dining until recently, along with revenue from weddings, banquets and charity tournaments that had to be postponed or canceled this summer.
The huge, money-making charity tournaments attracted annually by Pelican Hill and upscale private clubs such as Riviera CC in Pacific Palisades were among the casualties.
“We have 10 big fundraisers every year, and I don’t know if those will come back,” said Michael Yamaki, Riviera’s longtime corporate officer. “We want to help, but we can’t right now.”
Yamaki said the pandemic has significantly hurt his club’s bottom line, especially with so many out-of-town members not visiting during the pandemic. “COVID has done a number on us,” he said, estimating the food and beverage operations likely will be affected for at least three years. “Life will definitely change … has changed, will stay changed.”
Then there’s the Genesis Invitational, the PGA Tour event hosted annually by Riviera in February. “We don’t even know if fans are going to be allowed that week,” Yamaki said. “And that’s a big part of our business.”
Yamaki did note that local members are playing more golf and that “some members we hadn’t seen in a while are coming out to play.”
That has also been the case at the private Rancho Santa Fe GC in San Diego County.
“Since May, it has been unbelievable,” said Brad Shupe, general manager at Rancho Santa Fe GC. “Our rounds are up 40 percent. We had a large membership that was not playing much, and they all started playing.
Families are all playing together, too— not just the father. And non-golfing families are joining to learn to play. It’s great to see.”
Bobby Lasken, one of Orange County’s top golf instructors, also sees the signs that golf is on the rise — “the packed driving ranges with people waiting” and the run on golf balls at one local retail golf shop, where he said the “boxes used to be stacked eye-high.”
“My summers have always been busy, but I’ve never seen such interest. Everyone wants to take a lesson,” said Lasken, who works out of Arroyo Trabuco and has a diverse stable of clients, including Tour professionals, high school and college players and private club members. “Many of them want to restart lessons, while other families and kids want to learn to play.”
“Can we all agree now that golf is not the problem? It’s been time and money, and now people have the time. People want to play again.”
A recent press release from Golf Datatech — the golf industry’s leading independent market research firm for retail sales and consumer trends — reported that July was the greatest single month of golf equipment sales in history.
“Golf is surging through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the results confirm what a lot of retailers and PGA professionals have been feeling,” said John Krzynowek, partner, Golf Datatech, LLC. “While nothing is assured in this crazy world we live in today, we are hopeful that the current upward trajectory will continue.”