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 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. Unfortunately, as we’ve moved through the season many of these precautions have disappeared from some clubs.

The National Golf Foundation (NGF) recently circulated a letter indicating that August rounds were up 20.6% over 2019 (10 million additional rounds), on top of a June/July increase of 17 million rounds. Every state has experienced at least a 2% increase, with Texas at +39%, Florida at +37% and Arizona at +31%. Golf’s promotion of it’s social distancing compatibility has reaped some benefits.

NGF projects the possibility that golf could experience an overall 8% increase over 2019’s 441 million rounds, and that even with a 5% drop in the year’s final 4 months compared to 2019, an annual increase of 2% would be realized.

  • 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 and then colder seasons in the northern climates precludes most outdoor food and beverage service with indoor seating reduced or unavailable. 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. With the recent spike in infections as the weather cools and there is no unified national strategy for fighting COVID, golf courses and clubs would be well advised to have multiple budget plans, allowing for even unpredictable scenarios. Recently Carlisle Country Club in Pennsylvania sent out this letter to members resulting from the infection of a member. As conditions change will need to adapt by not only imagining alternative uses for banquet and other restaurant spaces, along with fitness, locker areas and other facilities and amenities impacted by the pandemic but also fluctuations in the state of 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. The ability to change direction “on the fly” will likely be the difference between success and failure of many clubs in the COVID era.

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