By Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer
After a year of bad, pandemic-related news, one good story has developed. Golf is back in a big way. It has never gone away, especially here in Colorado, where the greens are fast and the ball flies far thanks to thin air. However, it has not always been rosy for the 600-year-old sport.
According to the National Recreation and Park Association, golf has been on the decline since the early 2000s. In fact, in 2018, there were 6.8 million fewer golfers than in 2003. That is a loss of 22 percent.
Enter a worldwide pandemic and the number of rounds played isn’t the only thing that has increased; this resurgence has trickled into every area of the sport from clubs to carts.
Masek, a seller of golf carts in Commerce City, reports having one of their best years ever since they moved away from selling automotive equipment to golf carts in 1988. Not only have personal cart sales increased, but even sales of commercial mowers are up, which is resulting in delays in production and delivery.
“I think the entire golf industry, which includes watching golf on television, had a huge boost,” says Kurt Hinkle, director of marketing and public relations at Water Valley Land Company.
Water Valley is the housing development at the semi-private Pelican Lakes Resort & Golf in Windsor. While mild weather in March and April 2020 played a role, COVID-19 was a big reason the course hosted 59,000 rounds of golf last year, up from 45,000 in the previous year. Golfers drove from a super locked down Denver to play in Windsor, Pelican Lakes’ ladies league increased in participants and tournaments filled up within 24 hours.
Being an outside sport andnaturally social distanced, golf was the go-to for many families in 2020 because it was recognized as a safe option during COVID-19. While some were returning to the sport or playing more often, newbies to the sport also showed up to courses around Northern Colorado.
Ellen Bryant, resident of Loveland, never expected golf to become part of her life. However, with a boyfriend who is an avid player and COVID-19 wreaking havoc on normal life, she joined the masses who turned to golf this summer.
“I have played Cattail Creek, Mariana Butte and the Olde Course,” she says. “Golf is one of the few activities that feels reasonably low-risk due to being able to do it outside with a small group—often just the two of us—and obviously very socially distant.”
Bryant is not alone. In Loveland, Cattail Creek is the course that saw the biggest increase with 13,000 additional rounds played in 2020 compared to the previous year. It is considered a beginner’s course in part because it is relatively short.
“This could imply that customers were experimenting with or returning to golf during the pandemic” says Mark Esoda, golf operations manager for the City of Loveland.
“Overall, Loveland experiencedabout a 15 to 20 percent increase across all courses,” he adds.
Ptarmigan Country Club, located in Fort Collins, was up 62 percent in the number of rounds played. This private course saw a considerable increase in spouses and children playing golf. They were members who had not previously been interested. Now they came out in droves.
Fort Collins golf courses report roughly the same numbers as Loveland, and they had the best revenue year ever.
“City of Fort Collins has some really good deals for juniors,” says Scott Phelps, golf manager for the city. “We saw quite a few junior golfers taking advantage of our annual pass.”
With an influx of players, the future is bright for golf because the likelihood that newbies will continue to play the game is high.
“I definitely plan to play this summer and in the future,” says Bryant. “It seems to be well-suited to be a lifelong sport and I like it. It is something my boyfriend and I can do together and eventually my daughter, too. Plus, golf courses are just beautiful places.”
It has been a lifelong sport for many of the members at the new TPC Colorado, a semi-private course in Berthoud. The fact that the club established a course in Colorado is a testament to Coloradans’ love of the sport and that the Front Range is a stunning place to play golf.
The TPC Network, which is owned by the PGA Tour, is comprised of 30 private, resort and daily fee golf properties designed by golf’s most prestigious architects. Heron Lakes at TPC Colorado is a development of deluxe townhomes, villas and custom homes surrounding this course.
“We saw increases all across the board,” says John Buser, TPC Colorado general manager. “Kids, women, men, entire families, good golfers and new golfers.”
In 2020, TPC Colorado had 35 percent more rounds played than in 2019. A lot of golf club members who were working at home because of the pandemic made golf part of their daily routine by working in the evenings and golfing during the day.
Most of 2020 was spent keeping up with course maintenance on fairways that were busier than ever. There were some additions: Loveland added a new cart storage building at Cattail Creek. However, increased play does equate to increased profits for all courses mentioned and this means more purchases and capital projects can take place in the future.
The future of golf is bright. A brand-new flock of people have been introduced to the sport and former golfers are dusting off their clubs after years of neglect. Pandemic or not, there is nothing like being on the fairway on a sunny day. However, eager golfers should call well ahead for a tee-time for golf this summer and probably for many summers to come.
Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer is a freelance writer from Loveland. She is the founder of HeidiTown.com and covers travel, festivals and The West. To comment on this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org.Cattail Creek Golf Course, Loveland