Golf: The courses continue to see their activity increase two years after the start of the pandemic

Dennis Price tees off the first hole at the start of a round April 9 at Manchester’s Augusta Country Club. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

It was a familiar sight during the first COVID summer. Anyone who drives near a golf course in 2020 can expect to see full parking lots, or full driving ranges, or golfers playing on every hole. At any time of the day, every day of the week.

“(It came down to) what kind of options you had to participate in things, not even recreationally, just in general,” Waterville Country Club general manager Nick Pelotte said. “With all the restrictions that were there, almost everything inside was not something going on. …People who had a lot of options and a lot of things taken away from them were looking for something to do.

It’s been two years, and players who have flocked to the course have given no indication that they’re ready to quit. Restrictions have been eased and the state has reopened, but courts are still noticing a surge in cases that hasn’t leveled off.

The Waterville Country Club never had to cap memberships before the pandemic, but it did last year and Pelotte said that’s a possibility for this year as well.

“That suggests to me that the interest in golf is definitely still there,” he said. “It’s a little more prevalent now than maybe five, 10, 15 years ago.”

Randall Anderson, owner of Meadows Golf Club, said his course has seen an increase in membership.

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“We have seen significant membership growth during COVID. It continued, we didn’t lose any of that momentum,” he said. “Membership increased by about 60% for the COVID year, and (last year) we increased the total number again, the percentage was not as good, I still think we increased again by 25%. And this year, we’re on track to beat last year.

Anderson said the sport hasn’t just attracted diehard players.

“The occasional golfer is probably more important,” he said. “We see, even at fundraising tournaments, people who have never played golf come to play.”

Augusta Country Club’s Mark Plummer putts during the final round of the Maine Senior Amateur Aug. 25 at Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Natanis Golf Course’s chief pro, Dickie Browne, said he’s seen this boost everywhere. On the course, at the range and everywhere in between.

“My junior clinics last year were up, I had over 62 kids. My women’s clinic was the biggest I’ve ever had, I had to attend extra sessions,” he said. “Gaming fees are up, memberships are up, everything.”

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Activities that people couldn’t do in 2020 have returned, but Browne said those who tried golf two years ago were encouraged to stick with them.

“I think a lot of people are invested now. They went out and got new sets of clubs, they committed to a (course), and so they’re going to get what they pay for,” he said. “If you’re prepaying for something, you want to keep doing it.”

Anderson said people introduced to golf in the wake of the pandemic saw reason to stick with him.

“I think it’s a great all-around, lifelong activity,” he said. “And it’s very communal. You can bring a family, and it’s welcoming for all ages with different levels of tees you can play on.

“Courses welcomed the new growth, given that it was a tough time I would say. Cycle a bit flat. But now we’ve seen that increase, and I think a lot of us really appreciate everyone who has gone out and tried the game.”

For people who have played golf before, there have been more opportunities to access the course.

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“People had a lot of free time, some of it due to the nature of their job,” Pelotte said. “Let’s say you go to work for an hour a day. Now that you’re home, you have two hours of your day. … It opened a lot of doors.

Browne said he saw that too.

“I think people have more free time,” he said. “And I think a lot of people picked it up. I think it’s a combination. You take a guy who only played a few times a month, now he’s playing five or six times a month.

The increase in the number of players has included men and women, as well as juniors and seniors.

“We bring the young kids back, which is great. We need it,” Browne said. “You have to have a balance between all of them. The seniors and the juniors and the working guys.

The increase in business has given clubs more financial room to work when it comes to maintaining or improving the course, working on the clubhouse or replacing carts. With rising fuel prices, the recovery in business has come at the right time.

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“I think people were able to pay off some of their major loans and infrastructure, or were able to invest in some of the course needs that were delayed,” Anderson said. “With more use, there is also a little more cost. With more use, you may need an extra greens mower, or you may need a few or more greens mowers. large equipment. There are additional costs, but it’s not linear in terms of one-to-one. It allowed some breathing room from the earlier stresses of the past.

The people who run these courses know that they have to make sure to keep the golfers coming out.

“It’s going to fall on those of us who work in the industry to do our part to be able to retain customers,” Pelotte said. “Get them back and get them to enjoy the product we have.”

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Michael C. Ford