(March 31, 2021) - The first warm Sunday of the year had arrived. Temperatures soared into the 60s and even though it was only mid-March it was time for countless golfers from throughout the state to dust off their golf clubs, lug them up from the basement, load them into their trunk and make their way to their favorite course.
On that first warm Sunday on March 21st at Tunxis Country Club better than 600 rounds were played, at Manchester Country Club 180 walking-only rounds were played. If those numbers are any indication of what the season will bring then the optimism that is surrounding golf in Connecticut in 2021 is well-founded.
"We are very excited [for the 2021 season]. We are hoping for a bit of normalcy with fewer restrictions. My thought is 2021 will be just as busy if not busier than last year as long as we get some good weather and that the people who played last year continue to play and hopefully even some more people this year will play," said Jordan Gosler the Director of Golf at Manchester CC.
In 2020 golf was seen as an escape from the restrictions of the Covid pandemic. The game offered a safe option for people to see family and friends, and get some exercise. Not only did lifelong golfers play the game in astounding numbers but countless recreational and new golfers sought out the game as well.
"I am most optimistic about the new demographic of golfer," said Alliance Management co-founder and Managing Partner, Josh McKim. Alliance Management owns and operates Tunxis Country, Club, the Alliance Club at Oxford Green, Silo Point Country Club (formerly Heritage Village), Drive 45 Driving Range which sold more buckets of balls last year than it did in any of the 15 previous seasons, and the recently acquired Red Tail Golf Club in Massachusetts. "The millennials and women are picking up the game and playing in numbers that we haven’t seen in the last decade," continued McKim. "Public play is skyrocketing. We have a lot of new leagues forming and instructional programs are filling up as soon as they are announced."
Nationally according to the National Golf Foundation there were 502 million rounds played in 2020, an increase of nearly 14% over the rounds played in 2019. This despite the loss of roughly 20 million rounds in the spring when Covid shut down golf courses in many states. Those numbers were even better in Connecticut, which was one of the few states that didn't shut down golf courses last spring. The Nutmeg state saw rounds rise 48% from 2019 to 2020 going from 601,398 to 890,959 and these numbers may even be low because the data only reflects rounds played by those who have a registered GHIN number with the CSGA. The numbers do not reflect the rounds played by golfers without a GHIN number.
Beyond the number of people playing golf, in 2020, with the end of the Covid pandemic hopefully insight golf courses are beginning to optimistically plan for the return of events and functions. "I am excited to [safely] congregate as a group and have fun together again," Black Hall Club Head Professional Andrew Campbell said. "While golf was great last year because it was played, it was always in your foursome and there wasn’t a lot of gathering. I look forward to the return of gathering."
Those gatherings include corporate tournaments, weddings, and the ability to serve food without as many restrictions. The hope among those in the industry is that by the time mid-May comes around there will be an increased opportunity to host such events. In fact, courses are already beginning to see their event schedule fill up similar to what they looked like in a pre-Covid world. At Manchester CC the schedule is filling up but events that are traditionally earlier in the season are being scheduled for later in the year when organizations think everything will be closer to normal. "The charity events are almost all returning," said Gosler. "Our tournament schedule is almost back where it used to be."
With the return of various events comes the opportunity for golf professionals to once again utilize their creativity in a fun way, something that Country Club of Darien Head Professional Cory Muller said he missed being able to do last year. "I am most excited to have the enthusiasm and resurgence of golf coupled with our ability as professionals to get back to using our creativity to start creating programs for new golfers or those more interested in the game than ever before. We had all this excitement last year [around golf] but Covid handcuffed our creative ability so being able to have some of the regulations be softened and allowing us to get back to hosting and programming and better the experience is really exciting. I am just excited to show all of these people all the great stuff that we do as professionals."
Even as the optimism flies high there is an appreciation by many for what golf was able to provide last year. A year ago according to the National Golf Foundation 101 million or one in every three Americans, played, watched, or read about golf in 2020.
"I would like to acknowledge the sense of pride that I have for what we and other courses accomplished last year," said Muller. "We were a refuge, an oasis in a time where people were stressed out and it was scary. Yet they were able to come to the club, stay safe, get some exercise, and get outside. I had a number of people come up to me and say I don’t know what I would have done without the club and the ability to get out and play golf. People said they were able to play more rounds with my wife and kids because they weren't traveling to work every day and I got to be with my family more."
With golf at the forefront of many people's minds and a return to normal coming realistically closer with each passing day the stage is set for another big year of golf in Connecticut. "I am looking forward to a lot of people playing a lot of golf and I think it will be without a gray cloud over us," Campbell said. "I think it will feel like last year play wise but soon it will hopefully feel like it is a little more normal."