Social Distancing – The Impact on Golf

As reported by the National Golf Foundation (NGF),  by May 17, 95% of all golf courses in the United States will be open for business, most with some sort of operating restrictions.  As golf enthusiasts, we’re all excited to get back out and chase the little white ball, but what are the long term impacts of social distancing on golf?  I recently posed some questions to Steve Skinner, CEO of Kemper Sports, who operate over 130 golf properties nationwide, including some of the most prominent facilities in the country.

The topics of the questions included:

  • Anticipated revenue decline in 2020
  • Impact on club membership
  • Impact on rounds played
  • Job losses
  • Changes to golf course maintenance
  • Expanded use of properties for alternative activities
  • Real Estate Tax Assessments
  • Course closures
  • Golf in the future with social distancing

Mr. Skinner said that he expects rounds played to be higher at their facilities, and that courses have been very busy since reopening.  He predicts that if they can have foursomes at all their courses rounds will increase from 2019 and that folks working from home like to play golf.  He expects a decline in Food & Beverage revenues of from 50% to 70% due to wedding and event cancellations.  He anticipates F & B will take the biggest hit, followed by pro shop revenues, with golf revenues also impacted due to smaller group size and cart restrictions.

When asked about membership at Kemper’s private clubs, Skinner said: “We are seeing good commitment from members and strong interest in joining clubs. He predicts that the Coronavirus will create a “safe” perception of private clubs and encourage more staycations this summer.He expressed concern about how quickly the economy may recover from Coronavirus.

Skinner does not foresee any significant changes in golf course maintenance practices, stating that “we will look to be efficient with resources but still provide a high quality product.”  When asked about expanded use of properties for alternative activities, Skinner cited Bocce, Platform Tennis, Simulators, etc. as options for the future, which they have already added at some facilities.

When asked about the potential for more course closures, Skinner deferred saying that the pace of the economic recovery would determine that.  He sees a bright future for golf because “Golf is the perfect sport for a social distancing environment.  I believe golf will benefit from this “new normal” as people look to socialize in smaller groups and to get outside.  I also believe that the environment could benefit private clubs as people look to frequent places that they know well and consider safe”.

Anyone who’s looked to get a tee time recently will certainly understand Skinner’s optimism about rounds played.  Many tee sheets are full.  In some cases this is because intervals have been increased and in others because groups have been limited to 2 or 3 players.  However, as I suggested in an earlier piece, it is certainly possible that golf could benefit in the long term from the concept of social distancing.  Time will tell.