Golf Operations in the COVID era


Golf Operations in the COVID era: A series of "puts" and "calls"

By Jim Koppenhaver, President, Pellucid Corp.

As one of only a handful of industry analysts, the question of the day for inbound calls, emails and text messages has been: "Will COVID help or hurt the golf industry?"  To be honest, if I knew the answer to that I'd be trading stocks and retired by now.  The recent inquiring reporter from The Washington Post however wouldn't take that as an answer which forced me to launch into my perspective that truth will be found somewhere in between those two extreme outcomes. 

For purpose of illustration, I likened my analysis and forecast to a series of "puts and calls" which will work in opposite directions but, at the end of the day, the industry will move in one net direction or the other (up or down). What I could assure her of was that we will not naturally return to the pre-COVID "baseline" in the post-COVID world of golf operations.

Since the folks at NGCOA publishing have given me guidance to "land" this commentary between 400-600 words, we'll have to skim the surface and just hit the key highlights (those of you who follow Pellucid and our writing know that this will be like a novelist trying to write a poem). 

Back to my friend at the Post, I first explained that there are three major constituencies in what is often perceived as the "golf industry":  Entertainment/Media, Golf Consumer Equipment and Golf Operations.  They are of different sizes (hundreds of billions for Entertainment/Media down to <$5B for Consumer Equipment manufacturers), audiences (Media plays to a fan base which is exponentially larger than our 21M annual Players which is the consumer base for Equipment and Operations) and business models (Operations can't tap into the sea of TV rights/content money).  My observations are limited to the Operations sector and I told her that I'd liken the upsides to "calls" and the downsides to "puts."



One of the few recreational sports that are naturally "social distanced"

Reduced course utilization due to tee time spacing limitations

Outdoor exercise that doesn't feel like exercise

Reduced cart revenue due to single riders

Sharing outdoor time in nature with a friend-- walking or riding (in separate carts)

Loss in F&B revenues (events being the big impact)

The endorphins of shot/hole/round euphoria

High relatively fixed maintenance costs

Appreciation for recreation at a leisurely pace vs. a time-boxed activity on the daily checklist

Increased costs for cart and maintenance equipment sanitization

Relatively easily adapted to "touchless transaction"

Loss of loyalty due to loss of "hospitality factor" (inverse of touchless transaction)

More pricing power (within reason)

Potential drop in Age 65+ rounds due to cart limitations (those short of being handicapped)

This prompted her follow-up question, "Will golf as a sport being COVID-OK lead to a renaissance in participation back to the glory days?"  My response was, "Possibly, with a twist vs. what other pundits have opined." Others believe that COVID will expose the great unwashed masses to golf and they'll fall in love with it.  I don't doubt that there will be some element of that but difficulty and effort to progress to a satisfactory level of play for enjoyment remain as obstacles. 

If we pick up 100K "New-to-Golf " players in any given year, I'd call that a raging success but still, against our base of 21M current players, that won't get us back to the previous apex of just under 30M players in my lifetime (your mileage will vary based on your age).  Rather, I think the bigger upside for the golf consumer base is the potential to attract some number of the 10-20M "former players" back to the sport due to the COVID recreation. 

These are people who previously acquired some level of skill, have their equipment already (apologies to the equipment manufacturers who would prefer new golfers and new club purchases) and likely fell out of love with golf due to a plethora of tugs on their time (work, family, other interests etc.). 

If we as an industry can figure out a way to leverage COVID to find and attract even a fraction of these back (1M/yr anyone?), then we could potentially see our way back to 30M in 9 years and I'd still be alive to see it.  I like both that path and those outcomes better than the "COVID will drive N-t-Gs to golf which will propel us to former heights" narrative.  And then I sent her off to write her story...

Jim Koppenhaver is the founder and President of Pellucid Corp., a leading information and insights provider to the golf industry.  Pellucid provides a range of services for golf course owner/operators ranging from local market analysis to daily weather impact at facility level.  More information on Pellucid's services can be found here and Jim can be reached at