Johnson City, TN

Golf On the Upswing Amid COVID Concerns

John M. Dabbs

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Golf resurgence

Gold has experienced renewed growth after nearly a decade of declines. Between 2019 and 2020 there were reports an overall 2% gain, and another 8% gain in the number of female golfers. Amid COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing measures, the sport has persevered.

With safety precautions - such as going without a ball washer, closed clubhouse, rakes removed from sand traps- golf has become one of the sports to beat the pandemic while implementing social distancing. Less competitive outdoor activities have given golf a new light, and an opportunity to attract newcomers.

Will the trend continue

We can't say whether the increase during the pandemic will continue. There are too many other factors involved, such as costs of mitigation efforts and safety standards, equipment, and operational expenses. The golf industry may capitalize on the renewed interest of new golfers once pandemic and economic conditions improve. Much of which will be subject to how well the sport catches on with the new influx of patrons.

Golf has seen an increase in televised tournaments during the pandemic. Many new golfers may be looking at these rounds to better understand the game and its nuances. This, along with a larger social media presence gives golf an opportunity to expand its base.

Green fees

The pandemic and economic crisis that came with it have left many average golfers to evaluate their play. The decrease in their disposable income have many looking at their club memberships and green fees at private clubs.

This is giving some clubs pause, and having them reexamine their membership fees and lower their costs for playing a round. As demand has increased for now, it is unpredictable on how it will translate to new or renewed memberships in the future. A prolonged recession could see many clubs with decreased revenue streams and force closures.

Locally, Johnson City was forced to close Buffalo Valley Golf Course due to insufficient revenue to maintain it. The city was having to split revenue and upkeep between Pine Oaks and Buffalo Valley golf courses - both owned and maintained by the city. Neither was getting the treatment it deserved.

Now, with Buffalo Valley Golf Course spun off, the city has been able to focus on improvements to Pine Oaks Golf Course. It has paid off in renewed enthusiasm for the course with it's better maintenance. With the increase due to the pandemic, the city could probably use another public course again - but I do not see it happening.

New trends

There appears to be an effort to speed things up with the new generation. There is a bigger push to move to short events, with many duffers only playing 9 holes. People are being drawn to shorter courses and often play fewer holes due to family and work obligations. A quick 9-holes gives the hobbyist the opportunity to play a short round and may even opt to walk the course instead of using a cart.

Golfers can expect to see more 9, and even 6-hole courses. These will likely complement the traditional 18-hole courses, where we'll see a gradual decline in their use.

An HSBC report quoted golf legend Gary Player as saying "golf would have to come up with ways to play to that don't take as long to complete a round for the sport to grow." Player thinks this will make the sport more accessible to everyday golfers and give a chance for designers to build courses to appealing to a broader segment of society.

Next generation

Millenials now constitute nearly a third of the current golfing community. This appears to cut through the stereotype of the sport being for the middle-aged and retirees. over 14 millenials indicated they would be interested in playing golf in 2019.

The trend impacts everything around golf, including food and the use of technology. You may see clubhouses and courses furnished with items designed with the younger crowd in mind. Menus are already moving toward some healthier choices on menus. This also bodes well with the older clientel which have become more health-conscious.

Closing the gener gap

Women are becoming a larger segment of the golfing community as well. About 25% of golfers are now women, adn their presence in the beginner and junior ranks are growing proportionally. Woman bring another mindset to the game, and look at off-couse experiences - like a driving range. A 2019 survey had females comprising 40% of all off-course golfing.

As with SCUBA, tennis, and other sports, we can see the increased number of women golfers changing the apparell choices. Companies note these trends, and will undoubtedly focus more color and design into the clothing options to capture more of the women's market in golf attire. The demographic shift will mean renewed focus and diversification for equipment and fashion designers in the coming years.

This can be a win-win for everyone, as coed sports are great for teambuilding and families. Nearly 75% of all golf facilities in the United States are open to everyone. In the Tri-Cities we have some great public courses from which to choose and private courses which are also open to the public.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Johnson City, TN
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