By Larry Hirsh, President, Golf Property Analysts

To be adaptable is defined by as: able to adjust oneself readily to different conditions.

If we’ve learned nothing else from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I submit to you that we’ve enhanced our adaptability skills.

We’ve learned how to maintain social distance, wear face coverings and many of us are working and learning from home in a virtual environment with the aid of modern technology that is sure to change our lives.

The game of golf is one (like most sports) where adaptability is constantly required. Wind, temperature, rain, turf conditions, match status, hazards and how one feels are all conditions that a golfer needs to consider on each and every shot.

The golf course and club industry has also shown an excellent ability to adapt during the pandemic through such practices as touchless payment, sanitized golf carts, one-rider per cart, more walking, leaving the flag in and various hole modifications to allow one to retrieve their ball after holing out.

The National Golf Foundation (NGF) just yesterday circulated a letter indicating that June rounds were up 14% over 2019 and they project that overall, 2020 rounds will only decrease 1% from 2019 after the devastating start to the season, and if the second half of 2020 outperforms 2019 by 5% that 2020 would exceed 2019 by 2%. Golf’s promotion of it’s social distancing compatibility has reaped some benefits.

  • Is this good news sustainable?
  • Why are people playing more golf?
  • How do we adapt to the loss of non-golf revenues?

Time will tell if the increases are sustainable. Golf certainly has some favorable attributes in an era of social distancing and remote work environment, which is likely one reason more golf is being played. What I’d like to focus on is the non-golf sources of revenue.

Many facilities depend on food & beverage revenues, especially events for large gatherings to be profitable. Nobody knows yet in what form or when these types of events may return. Regular dining, if available is at reduced capacity, whether inside or out. In the meantime, golf courses and clubs need to adapt and either replace revenues or manage operating expenses.

While the increases in play are a positive, golf courses can only accommodate so many players. After a certain point, the course becomes too crowded and the experience is diminished. Outdoor dining may look great in June and July, but the shoulder seasons in the northern climates precludes most outdoor food and beverage service if indoor seating is either reduced or not available. Retail sales in the pro shop are also likely impacted by reduced traffic and resistance by some to wearing face coverings.

So far, golf has proven adaptable and with the promotion of golf as an activity where social distancing is compatible, rounds have increased. We will have to continue to be adaptable to these continuing conditions by imagining alternative uses for banquet and other restaurant spaces, along with fitness, locker areas and other facilities and amenities impacted by the pandemic.

It’s been suggested by some that Coronavirus could encourage a resurgence in golf. That would be great, however golf courses and clubs need to be economically sustainable and ancillary revenues, especially food and beverage need to recover or be replaced for long-term sustainability, especially in those cases where facilities were designed and developed accordingly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please e-mail me .

Larry Hirsh, President of Golf Property Analysts, is a widely published author and frequent lecturer at industry events. He has done assignments on more than 3,000 courses in 45 US states and Canada.