BOSTON, Mass – Only four months ago golf course owners and operators faced an uncertain future due to the coronavirus pandemic. As we close in on Labor Day, there is nothing but smiles and sound of CHA-CHING, from pro shop cash registers ringing up unprecedented sales from greens fees, new private club memberships, carts, merchandise, lessons and almost anything related to golf.
Who would have thought the golf industry would make such a dramatic and profitable comeback?
Golf rounds have rebounded in June and July to the point where the industry should make up for the forced closures in the spring, according to the latest data from GolfDatatech and the National Golf Foundation.
“We’ve updated our year-end rounds forecast with a “neutral” projection, now showing us finishing the year down just 1%, much more favorable that we’d have expected two months ago,” wrote Joseph Beditz, president and chief executive officer of National Golf Foundation, in a recent letter.
Beditz estimates that golf courses lost 20 million rounds in March and April when governments forced many courses to close. That represented a loss of $1 billion in golf course revenues. But golf has seen a boom in play since then, with rounds up 14% over the prior year in June. Anecdotal reports for July suggest that the surge in participation has continued, with many courses reporting rounds up 20%. A solid fall could even lead to an increase in rounds from the prior year, he said.
“Overall the rounds are pretty doggone strong and looking good,” Beditz said.
He said the pandemic hit at a good time for golf, when most courses were open but not at the height of the season. He said that while courses may be off on outings revenue and Food & Beverage, other areas look good.
Butter Brook Golf Club, a popular public facility designed by Geoffrey Cornish located in central Massachusetts, reports over 300 rounds of golf daily. The rate for golf & cart Friday through Sunday is $88. Although the weather has cooperated, the greens and fairways have taken a beating, with several greens looking like dart boards from so many ball marks.
For example, retail sales of golf merchandise are flourishing, with some manufacturers unable to keep up with demand.
Beditz said there is also a swell of beginners and youth playing golf. Youth ages 6 to 17 is up considerably from prior years.
“Our current best estimate is that we could see an increase of half a million junior golfers by year’s end (+20%),” he wrote on July 30. “The question, as always, is whether we’ll be able to convert these fresh faces into committed customers.”
The increase in youth and other beginners, however, has been offset by a drop in older golfers, who presumably are staying away from the course for health reasons.
“Overall, we don’t see big movement on the number of golfers,” Beditz said. “It is up slightly [from the 24.2 million golfers projected last year].”
Beditz also said there has been no discernable impact on the number of course closures this year. While some experts have speculated that struggling courses might throw in the towel and close, that has not happened. Beditz said it may be due to the historically low interest rates, allowing courses with debt to manage the situation.