“Everybody asked, ‘How was the season? Were you up?’ Honestly, if there was a golf course that wasn’t up, something is wrong,” said Scott Reuter, head golf professional at The Wilds in Prior Lake.
The Minnesota Golf Association recently conducted a benchmarking facility rounds study to validate the increase in golf participation attributed to COVID-19 and restrictions on other forms of outdoor recreational activities in place for much of 2020.
Golf facilities in Minnesota reported that rounds were up on average 29.7%.
“There was nothing else to do. I started my career in the late ‘90s. The craze for golf was still going strong before we hit the boom. Unfortunately it was the pandemic that had to bring it back,” Reuter said.
The MGA surveyed 358 golf facilities around the state, with 89 facilities reporting rounds over the last three years in the following categories: municipal (26.4% reporting); private (79%); public daily fee (22.2%); and resort (40%), said Warren Ryan, communications director for MGA.
Public daily-fee facilities saw, on average, 28,394 rounds in 2020 — 30.5% more rounds than were reported in 2019; municipal facilities, 32,589 rounds, a 29.2% increase; private clubs, 24,162 rounds, a 34.9% increase; and resort courses, 27,392 rounds, a 14.3% increase.
Prior to the pandemic, from 2018 to 2019, Minnesota golf facilities saw a modest increase in golf rounds of 1.8%; this year, golf rounds surged by an average of 29.7% across all facility types, Ryan shared in his report.
“As most people know, golf courses had a good year in 2020. Golf was a safe, outdoor activity, and many people took advantage of the opportunity to get outside and do something fun,” said Tom Abts, general manager at Deer Run Golf Club in Victoria.
Abts, a friendly face at Deer Run for nearly 30 years, said, like Reuter, he remembers what golf courses were like in the 1990s.
“Golf courses were packed every day of the week. However, 9/11 changed things in America, and golf took a hit, especially on weekdays. Things started to come back for golf by 2007, but then the real estate crash of 2008 rocked America. And this one really affected golf,” he said.
Desperate to increase play on weekdays, Abts and Deer Run expanded full course golf events on Wednesdays and Fridays, not just the traditional Mondays.
“With our men’s and ladies leagues on Tuesday and Thursdays full, we were sold out Monday through Friday every week. We just needed good weather for the weekends,” Abts said. “Because of our formula, we did not see the typical increase in play that other courses did because of COVID. We were already full. However, we did have great weather on the weekends and that helped give us a good year despite not opening up the clubhouse all year.”
Reuter has been asked often over the years, “What’s wrong with golf?”
“Nothing’s wrong with golf, it’s just that so many things are competing with people’s time. I think it’s pretty evident now that we’re saw how full courses were in 2020,” Reuter said.
To put last year’s local surge in perspective, golf rounds in the U.S. were up 13.1%, less than half the Minnesota overall average, according to Golf Datatech’s National Golf Rounds Played Report.
So, what can one expect when the snow melts and play begins in 2021?
“How do we look at 2021? The same way. I look at our Thursday league. We have a re-up process with a Dec. 31 deadline; everyone that played last year gets first crack. Everyone is back. Our wait list is the biggest we’ve ever had,” Reuter said.
The Wilds’ Tuesday women’s league was forced to expand after some 2020 golfers did not make the first group of registrations for 2021. The Monday social league was full in 10 days.
“I see by August or September, I feel with the vaccines, if it does happen, we will have concerts, sporting events, other things that take away time and we may have more availability,” Reuter said.
Deer Run’s plan for 2021 is to not host golf events on Friday, opening up availability as well for players. Additionally, the clubhouse will be open, with restrictions, as well.
Abts said COVID was the “spark” to bring back busy weekday golf play. The joy and fun players had in 2020 figures to keep the flame lit for 2021.