HARTFORD, Conn. – For the state of Connecticut, one of the few positives to come out of the horrific COVID-19 pandemic is the increase in spring revenue for the estimated $1.3 billion golf economy.
There’s a reason for the sudden jolt in revenue. The Governor of Massachusetts issued a ban on golf since March 23, and, at the moment, courses will not be allowed to reopen until May 18.
Every day, golfers from Massachusetts are flocking to the Nutmeg State to tee it up. When the weather forecast is good, hundreds of golfers are driving, in some cases, hundreds of miles, paying whatever the going rate is, to enjoy a day outside playing golf. Parking lots at many courses have been jam-packed with vehicles bearing Massachusetts license plates.
Only three states have banned golf because of the deadly virus, with Alaska clubs closed because of seasonality. Two of the three states not allowing drives, approaches, chips and putts are in New England – Massachusetts and Vermont. Maine golf courses opened May 1 and New Hampshire will open May 11.
The National Golf Foundation (NGF) reported that 80 percent of courses in the United States were May 4, projecting 90 percent to be open as of May 17.
Governors in 47 states agree there is a safe way to golf. The strict new social distancing parameters include closed clubhouses and online payment system to keep players out of closed pro shops. They require one person in a golf cart at a time, and some courses demand walking.
We are all in this together and the bottom line is that participants are enjoying an outside recreational activity with one important common-sense goal: to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease that has killed nearly 70,000 Americans and more than 250,000 people worldwide.
Connecticut Welcomes Mass Golfers
Two world-class Connecticut resorts – Lake of Isles Golf Course in North Stonington and Mohegan Sun Golf Club in Baltic – allow out-of-state members and guests to play. TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, home of the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship, is allowing only members to play. The 2020 Travelers Championship is scheduled June 25-28, but will be a TV-only event, no fans are allowed.
The spring golf business has turned into a cash-cow bonanza for the Nutmeg State since March 25 when Gov. Ned Lamont, announced that golf is considered an essential business and is allowed with certain restrictions. It’s not known exactly how much gross revenue grew over 6-8 weeks but it is in the millions.
With the ban in effect, Massachusetts golf course owners are losing well over $2 million each day. The financial loss is much more than that because if 100 golfers pay $50 ($5,000) and Massachusetts has 400 golf courses, the total is $2 million.
Paul Banks has worked at the nine-hole Copper Hill Golf Club in East Granby for 26 years, the last 11 as owner, said things have been “insane” since the club opened. That includes daily play of more than 200 rounds, nearly half by Massachusetts golfers.
“It’s something that I’ve never seen before,” Banks said. “The phone has been ringing off the hook and 50 percent of the calls are from Massachusetts. They can’t all get out, but at least 40 percent of them do. Last Saturday I was talking to someone for 10 minutes, I could see we had got five calls from Massachusetts.”
Like at all courses these days, restaurants are closed except for takeout, but the Copper Hill golf business has increased 20 percent despite no high school teams playing there this spring. And Banks has some interesting tales of how gung-ho golfers can be.
“People are trolling the Internet to get phone numbers (for courses),” Banks said. “We had two foursomes from Maine, and one guy from Cape Cod came all the way here but played only nine holes because it got too dark to keep playing. But no one is really complaining because they’re just happy to be able to get out there.”
Banks also got one especially intriguing call.
“Someone asked if we allowed out-of-state golfers,” Banks said. “I asked why he asked that, and he said because some friends from Massachusetts had gone to Rhode Island and got charged with a misdemeanor from the police because Rhode Island was allowing only players from Rhode Island.”
Despite the restrictions, Banks considers himself quite fortunate.
“I’m glad to be on this side of things, but I feel really sorry for clubs five miles away in Massachusetts,” Banks said.
Suffield Country Club Sees 20 Percent Increase in Business
Stan McLennan is in his 32nd year as the pro at the nine-hole Suffield Country Club, which is also near the Massachusetts border. Suffield CC is a private course, but McLennan has received plenty of calls from Bay State golfers.
“I can’t tell you how many calls that I’ve taken from Massachusetts,” McLennan said. “They’re dying to play, and I hate to have to tell them that we’re a private club.”
Still, McLennan said there were 1,159 rounds at Suffield CC in April, an increase of 20 percent, despite adverse weather much of the month.
“With no school, we’re the only game in town as a youth activity and have had a real family atmosphere,” McLennan said. “As the only member of the pro shop staff around, I haven’t missed a person who showed up, so it has given me an opportunity to really see what the actual numbers are.”
And with the restaurant closed, it has allowed renovations to go unimpeded for two months.
“Everything is about done,” McLennan said. “The new clubhouse is going to be amazing.”
Todd Goodhue, the pro at Shennecossett Golf Course in Groton, is amazed with the 40 percent increase in players the past three weeks. Most of the increase has been from Massachusetts, but some have traveled from New York on the opposite side of Connecticut.
“We’ve been jamming busy from the first tee time to the last tee time,” Goodhue said. “We’ve had a lot of Boston traffic, and I go down the tee sheets every day and see all kinds of exchanges from Massachusetts that we never saw before. And part of our clientele was the casino traffic, but with the casinos closed, it’s strictly golf-driven traffic.
“We’ve had to go through some hoops to stay open, like no carts because the Town of Groton said there were too many touch points, but I’m just happy to be open. I feel sorry for clubs that have had to stay closed.”
Mass Golf Ban Set To End May 18
Joe Marin of Franklin, Mass., started the “Please Let Massachusetts Golf” online petition through Change.org. There are 42,000 signatures, averaging out to about 1,200 a day.
Marin played May 1 at Lake of Isles and Saturday at The Windham Club in Willimantic, where he said the parking lot was full of Massachusetts license plates.
“Tee times at Lake of Isles are sold out through May 11,” said Marin, a member at Franklin Country Club. “The price was $135 with a cart, but that didn’t deter Massachusetts golfers from driving 80 or more miles to Connecticut even with the casino closed.”
Marin had an unusual and personal incident at The Windham Club. His foursome, which had driven 90 minutes, was hit into during the round, and the foursome caught up and apologized. When one of the followers from Marblehead, Mass., asked Marin if he had heard about or signed the petition, Marin smiled and said he had started it.
“They wanted to hug me,” Marin said. “I certainly don’t want anyone to die, but this isn’t just about golf. We have to make sure our courses don’t get wrecked because it’s very detrimental to the entire industry. We never came in contact with any other group, we all walked, never came within 8-10 feet of each other and had a great time talking and catching up while following all the guidelines and staying safe.
“When I arrived, there was about 60-70 percent Massachusetts license plates, and when leaving about 4 p.m., I was looking to validate and it seemed like well over 80 percent of the cars.,” he added. “Playing golf on a 200-plus-acre property with typically only 80-90 people at once spread out across the course is safer than going to Home Depot or the grocery or liquor store. Massachusetts golf courses are losing greens fees and people aren’t purchasing golf clubs, gloves, balls, shirts, shorts and pants. There’s revenue lost from not holding outside tournaments or outings. It’s brutal, and it should not be happening.”
Gov. Baker’s emergency stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses is in effect until May 18, and there wasn’t any encouraging news for golf at a press conference May 4 at the State House. Baker said more information will be available soon about the Commonwealth’s plan to reopen the economy in “phases” in the coming weeks.
“What that means is that the only sectors of the economy that can implement the appropriate health guidance will be opening in the first place,” Baker said. “There won’t be anyone firing a starting gun on May 18 and saying everybody’s off to the races.”
When asked about the negative effect that his refusal to reopen courses has had, Baker said, “There are a lot of people in Massachusetts who are paying an enormous price financially and economically for this particular pandemic, and we made decisions based on what we thought were in the best health and interest of the people of Massachusetts.”
Phil Corcell, a mortgage broker from Natick, Mass., is a member at George Wright Golf Course in Hyde Park and wishes he didn’t have to travel so far to enjoy his favorite game. He has played several times at Lake of Isles after playing at Triggs Memorial GC and Metacomet GC in Rhode Island before Rhode Island limited play to only state residents.
“Massachusetts should have kept courses open because golf can be played safely here and everywhere,” Corcell said. “Do you think 47 other Governors are going to allow golf if it can’t be played it safely? The golf ban in Massachusetts has turned into a financial boom for Connecticut.”