Reflections On Michigan Golf In 2020: A Plague Year
As awful as 2020 was from a personal (I lost my best friend) and professional perspective (I teach school), it was a very good year for my life in golf.
Over the summer, I played 32 new courses in my quest to play every public golf course in Michigan. Pure Michigan’s website pegs the state’s public golf course total at 650, so that means I’m a third of the way to the goal.
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In 2020, I was blessed to be able to have Washtenaw Golf Club as my home course. Washtenaw is a beautiful classic course dating to 1899, making it the third oldest club in the state. In a year which has brought much stress, I was thankful for the many delightful early morning and evening rounds at Washtenaw. On that course, I can forget my troubles. The staff at Washtenaw is second to none and goes out of its way to ensure players are enjoying their day.
My favorite new (to me) public courses this year were Boyne’s Arthur Hills and The Mines in Grand Rapids. I’ll given an honorable mention to Boyne’s The Monument. I also had the chance to play the private Kingsley Club and made a repeat visit to Oakland Hills’ North Course. Kingsley is amazing, and I really love Oakland Hills’ North.
On a whole, Michigan’s golf courses seemed to be doing quite well in this Plague Year. Over the summer, I talked to several course managers and pros who said their properties were on track for a 30% to 40% increase in business. That’s impressive after a couple of decades of flat and declining rounds and numerous course closings.
The downside was that course restaurant, bar and wedding business was severely curtailed.
For golf, COVID-19 represented an unwanted opportunity. Hanging out in bars and restaurants in Michigan (and elsewhere) was forbidden. Congregating with your friends indoors was forbidden — or at the very least, unwise. On the other hand, playing golf in the out-of-doors — especially if you were walking — seemed relatively safe.
Indeed, what better way to spend a day in a plague year than on a golf course?Sunshine, fresh air, exercise and the socially spaced company of friends all were things we needed in 2020. Golf is uniquely situated to fill those needs.
The National Golf Foundation says that over the season, rounds were up 13%. In August, rounds played nationally were up 20% over the previous year. September rounds were up 26% November? 57%
Anecdotally, I do not remember a year in which golf courses were so packed or in which mid-week rounds took so long. I am accustomed to easily finding a tee time Monday through Thursday and completing rounds in under three and a half hours.
Not in the summer of the plague.
There were a couple of courses I wanted to visit this summer where I was absolutely unable to find an agreeable tee time.
As a single, I was paired far more often than in the past. There just wasn’t room for a single on the tee sheet.
Another observation: I saw more women and juniors on the course than ever before. The NGF says rounds played by 6-to-17-year-olds were up by 20%. I haven’t seen a number for women players, but I suspect it’s the same.
I don’t spend much time in pro shops, but Golf DataTech statistics show that golf gear sales in July hit $388 million — the highest monthly total yet recorded. Third quarter sales were more than $1 billion.
My guess is that a lot of that was due to new players coming into the fold. Or perhaps from players returning to the fold who discovered that golf technology has improved since they purchased their TaylorMade Bubble Shaft clubs.
Early in the season, push- and pull carts were sold out. Used ones were going for retail price on Craigs List. At first, the shortage was the result of Michigan’s early restrictions on using motorized carts. If you wanted to play, you had to walk.
As the summer progressed, however, I still saw what I think was a much larger than usual number of players walking. Perhaps it was a lingering fear of spending four hours seated in a cart next to a potential virus carrier. Or perhaps players rediscovered the joy of playing the game as it was meant to be played.
I wonder if any of the golf market research firms has data on whether there was an increase in the number of rounds walked.
I effectively ended my 2020 season a week or so ago with one last December round at Washtenaw Golf Club. That round marked the 70th straight month in which I have played at least one round of golf in Michigan.
Hopefully, even as life begins to return to “normal” in 2021 with the vaccinations against COVID-19, the golf “boom” will continue. Golf has so much to offer, and perhaps 2020 is the year that people rediscovered it.
Reflections On Michigan Golf In 2020: A Plague Year was first published on GolfBlogger.Com on December 31, 2020