There are not a lot of folks around who would suggest that the summer of 2020 (or pretty much any of the remaining calendar year) benefitted their particular industry.
Within the context of sports, golf was clearly the exception.
With the options of athletic activities drastically curtailed given the realities of physical distancing, the pastime which by its very nature requires acres upon acres of space to work with became the go to, both for current avid golfers as well as countless newcomers or returnees to the game.
“When the pandemic first hit in mid-March and everything went into lockdown, I’m not going to lie - I lost a lot of sleep,” suggested Tom Arnott, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club. “When golf was given the go ahead on May 17th or so, the phone just started ringing off the hook.”
“That’s when it kind of turned the corner for me.”
And while absolutely no one expected that Ontario would still be dealing with a lockdown nearly a full year later, there is little doubt that those involved with golf want to build on the momentum that was created by a truly unforeseen global phenomenon.
“Now that we’ve indoctrinated all of these new golfers to the game, it’s up to us, as an industry, to engage them to a point where they want to remain when we do get past this,” said Arnott. “It can be a bit of a challenge because the bulk of that demographic is a lot younger than what we were used to having.”
Arnott is equally as adamant that the approach is not likely to be the same for each and every club.
“I think what an owner has to do first is look at the growth that they have realized during these COVID times and identify what demographic that is,” he suggested. “In our case, with the younger demographics, our social media platforms have become way more active than they have ever been.”
“That’s important. You want to get that group involved, feeling like they are part of it, feeling like they are part of the culture and the fabric of the club.”
It’s a very similar story across town at the Timberwolf Golf Club - and all of their affiliated local properties, for that matter. “We got started very late, last year, but then the game exploded from there,” noted Sam Yawney, President of Golf Sudbury. “It kept going through the winter with our membership numbers, and this spring is probably our strongest spring ever. Golf is in a really good spot right now, in all fronts.”
Once again, a client focused approach is central to leveraging the surge from the summer of 2020 through to potential growth for the next decade or two (or more) to come. “It’s all about keeping your customers happy, making the course very playable, making sure that the people that do come out have an enjoyable day,” stated Yawney.
“Even though we are a lot busier, we have to make sure that the experience that they have when they come out here is a good one.”
By the middle of June, his clientele could well have an additional offering to pique their interest, as Yawney looks to install a new putting course venue that is loosely based on transitioning from the highly successful Topgolf ventures in the U.S. to a putting-oriented golf entertainment concept.
“I have this piece of property between the driving range and Maley Drive that was just sitting there, lying fallow,” he said. “My first thought was a mini-putt, but not a goofy mini-putt where you are putting into and over things, with dinosaurs and elephants and whatever. But I did want something that the masses could enjoy.”
His on-line research would lead him the way of PopStroke, a morphing of the Topgolf vision that can be offered to folks who find even a leisurely game of golf far too aggravating - and an initiative that has drawn the endorsement of Tiger Woods, no less.
“It’s going to be more family oriented than the night club atmosphere of Topgolf, but we are going to have a licensed food trailer - and the property that the putting course will be on will be licensed,” said Yawney. “There is enough space to put in a good sized putting course, along with a children’s play area.”
“With the increased traffic that is now on Maley Drive, I thought it would lend itself well to this particular project. It opens up our sport to a much greater portion of the population.”
With a little luck, Yawney is hoping to combine to near perfection an entertaining outing for a wide swatch of demographics with a regional aesthetic flair. “We’re planning on putting in solar lights and keeping things open until midnight. We are putting in some northern Ontario like features, with large boulders as part of the design, some pine trees, with moulding and ondulations and two cuts of grass.”
Until this addition arrives, golf purists and neophytes alike will (hopefully) soon be able to take to their favourite venue, with all of the local courses reporting better than average conditions as spring rolls in.
“We were shocked this year, just because there was a significant rain event in late December,” said Arnott. “But the greens came through well. We don’t like to see rain at all, once you get into November. It’s nice when you get a good blanket of snow early on and then add to it in little bits, without having any kind of a melt.”
“The biggest enemy of any golf course is ice, when it settles on the green.”
With record numbers or near record numbers expected to be out swinging the sticks again in 2021, golf professionals are sure to be kept busy. “There are likely 18 different methods of maintenance for 18 different greens,” said Arnott. “It’s a challenge, for sure.”
But it’s a challenge that he and his golfing brethren are only too happy to tackle.