For nearly the past year, the one common topic discussed in “golfdom” is the surge in participation, rounds played and club membership resulting from the COVID pandemic. The question is how sustainable is that surge? I believe it relates to if, how and how many return to the traditional workplace. “When the pandemic recedes, executives can’t expect office life to be as it was. But they can create a new work world that will keep employees happy and productive”, say Harvard Business School faculty members.
As a lifelong real estate professional, I’ve surmised over the past several years (before COVID) that the preponderance of online shopping and remote working would negatively impact the retail and office real estate markets. An article from Harvard Business School March 7, 2021 recognizes that with COVID cases subsiding and vaccinations rising, the prospect of returning to old office routines appears more possible. It raises the following questions:
- Will employees want to flock back to buildings even when it’s safe again?
- Should companies do away with Zoom and return the workplace to its pre-COVID ways?
Their answer is “No”.
That said, it’s probably safe to assume that some will return to a more traditional work schedule and others may adopt a “hybrid” schedule that involves some time in the office and some at home or an other remote location. What does all this mean for golf courses and clubs?
Back in December, I wrote about practice facilities, interviewing architect Lester George. More recently, a random conversation with one of the guys responsible for monitoring activity at my club motivated some thought about the potential for increased use of practice facilities as more workers return to a fuller work schedule but with the potential for less commuting may have enough time for a practice session of an hour or so. This could mean more traffic for practice facilities, most of which may not be equipped to handle it.
Certainly, many clubs have directed some focus to their practice facilities in recent years as golfers have demanded same. Historically, with practice grounds being afterthoughts in many cases, safety wasn’t always addressed. Short game areas, in particular can be cramped and one player chipping from one side of the green can be at risk from the player hitting bunker shots from the other side. Many practice teeing grounds are limited and turf is chewed up in the early or mid-season, diminishing the experience by the end of the season.
It wouldn’t surprise me if when the long-term impact of COVID is truly known that practice facilities end up with a significant and sustainable increase in use, possibly greater than that of the golf course itself. Only time will tell, but if your club is considering capital improvements, the range may be a good place to focus attention.