Will 2021 Be A Record Year On Traverse City’s Golf Programs?
Could 2021 be the greatest golf year in Northern Michigan’s history? This is a question that local golf course owners and golf professionals are asking this spring. The enormous numbers for 2020 and an unusually short off-season give rise to optimism for the coming months. The ticker We cracked the numbers to learn more about where the local golf sport is currently – and why the sport has seen its biggest boom in more than a decade.
The rise of 2020
Americans played about 50 million more rounds of golf last year than last year – a bump attributed to increased interest in outdoor recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the second largest year-on-year increase in golf (the largest was 1997, known in the golf world as the “Tiger Effect”).
Northern Michigan felt the boom last year.
According to Tom McGee, Director of Golf Operations at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, a total of 50,524 rounds were played on the property’s three golf courses in 2020 – a “seven or eight percent increase” from 2019. That general increase in business followed. in which COVID shutdowns and restrictions torpedo traffic for April, May and June. “Our laps in that three-month window were 24 percent lower than last year,” says McGee. “But we’ve seen a major turnaround, and from July to December we’ve been up 23 percent.”
According to McGee, 2020 was still not as big as the “Tiger Effect” years: 1999 and 2000 remain the resort’s record golf years. Even so, the sport hasn’t been as popular at the resort since September 11, 2001, which McGee points out as the sport’s fiery popularity waned.
“The entire travel prospect has changed,” McGee recalls after September 11th. “Suddenly the conferences weren’t a four-day conference anymore. It was two or three day conferences and they eliminated some of the recreational parts of the conferences. There we saw the biggest drop in a group and conference game. But there was also a small recession there and that had a big impact on the game of golf. “
Carolyn Olson, one of the owners of Elmbrook Golf Course, agrees that doing local golf in 2020 felt like looking back at another time. But Olson points to another global game changer: the Great Recession.
“It has definitely been a record year for Elmbrook since 2007,” says Olson of 2020. “And 2007 was the record year for Elmbrook.” She adds that 2007 was “the last great year in golf” for much of the industry.
According to the National Golf Foundation, three million Americans played “a golf course for the first time in 2020”. Scott Wilson, one of the course’s PGA Pros, said learning programs had perhaps the biggest boost amid a consistently “record year” at the Bay Meadows Family Golf Course.
“Our teaching programs – from one-to-one tuition to all of our junior golf programs – were all about 20 percent record-breaking,” Wilson told The Ticker. “Since golf is of course a socially distant game, people have thought never to play golf [before the pandemic]. ”
Tuition programs also increased at the Grand Traverse Resort Golf Academy, which doubled the number of private golf lessons from 118 in 2019 to 237 in 2020.
“Lots of these [lessons] New golfers have taken up the game to enjoy the outdoors and spend time with family and friends, ”says McGee. “Another part of the increase was because avid golfers simply wanted to improve their game because they played more often.”
Leading indicators suggest that the golf dynamic of last year will continue.
“We were closed at that time last year,” says Wilson, referring to the Executive Orders that kept Michigan golf courses closed until April 24th [spring 2020] Numbers the other day and it was just “zero, zero, zero, zero” [for those first four months]. And now, with the weather we had, it was already a record breaking spring. “
Wilson says the Bay Meadows spring program that began this week is almost sold out. This includes two youth golf leagues – one for younger junior golfers and one for more experienced children – each with a maximum of 24 participants. He also notes that the course’s winter program – including golf simulators and other learning center facilities – “was packed with adults and children seven days a week all winter.”
Olson says Elmbrook has also sold out its spring programs faster than usual, including a league called Girls Just Want To Have Fun and a new junior golf program – programs that collectively accommodate around 50 players.
The other factor that could help make 2021 a banner year for golf? A historically early start. As Elmbrook enters his 57th year, the course has an average post-winter opening date on April 15, according to Olson. This year, Saturday March 20th was the first day on the course. Similar early starts took place at Bay Meadows and the Resort – the latter having a historically short 14-week off-season.
“We stayed open until December 11th and we’re open on March 20th,” says McGee. “We usually have a month left [of winter] on both sides of it. So you usually see an off-season of 22 or 23 weeks. Having only 14 weeks is very, very short. In my tenure here – and I started here in 1988 – March 20th was the earliest we ever opened. “
Looking at the spring numbers so far – both in terms of the rounds already played and the rounds booked for the coming weeks and months – McGee has high hopes.
“Our stimulus numbers are up 37 percent compared to what we had in the books with rounds of golf at this point last year,” he says. “And even compared to 2019 – that was a good year before the pandemic – we are still up by 18 percent. That prepares us for a good golf season, as far as we are happy. “