Golf is riding a wave of increased popularity at local courses during the pandemic with members and visitors playing frequently, officials at several clubs said.
The sport affords golfers the chance to be outside in the fresh air where the odds of catching the virus are greatly reduced, while playing a round of golf with friends, they said. With the spaciousness of golf courses, it is easy to practice social distancing and golfers feel comfortable removing their masks when on the course.
Like sailing, boating and RV’ing in mobile homes, golf appears to be an activity that increasing numbers of people have taken up during the pandemic.
And while golf courses suffered losses from cancelled weddings and other functions, the golfing boom has been a shot-in-the-arm to local courses and country clubs and will help offset some of the losses from the cancellations, they said.
Golf officials said they are crossing their fingers and hope this was not just a one-time thing and they will see a repeat in the golfing activity next year.
“It’s a single opportunity to do something, to do something within the regulations of COVID,” said Eric Farias, president of the board of directors the last three years at the Allendale Country Club in Dartmouth.
“Golf is on the rise again. There was a dip. Now it has leveled-off,” said Paul F. Walsh Jr., a member of Allendale’s board of directors. “COVID has been a boon. It’s a great place to be with others.”
The return of golf’s popularity also meant good news for manufacturers of golfing equipment.
The Acushnet Co. in New Bedford, the maker of golf equipment and clothing for brands like Titleist, announced plans last month to hire over 200 people because of the increased demand during the pandemic.
“We continued to see incredible demand for our products as we came out of the heart of the initial part of the pandemic,” Brendan Reidy, chief people officer for Titleist, said last month at a job fair in New Bedford.
“We were busier than we have ever been,” Donald Daley, the head golf professional at the Fall River Country Club the last six years, said about last summer. “A lot of it was because there was nothing else to do. No Red Sox. No hockey. Restaurants were closed. It was an outdoor activity and people were safe.”
“There was a lot of member play, a lot of visitor play. Every day was busy,” Daley said. Membership in the Fall River Country Club also saw increased play.
People were out of work and decided to spend some of their free time playing golf, he said. The dry summer also contributed to the popularity of golf.
“Who knows what will happen next year?,” Daley said. “Hopefully, we can keep those members and continue the uptick.”
“It was the busiest we have been in years,” said Dave Hallam, the assistant pro at the Segregansett Country Club, Taunton. “It killed us that we could only have one person per cart because we only have 50 carts. They were gone by 10:30, 11 o’clock.”
The state rescinded the golf cart restriction on Monday, he said. Now there are two golfers in a cart, if they are comfortable with that arrangement.
Hallam said it was a combination of factors all relating to the pandemic that led to the resurgence in the sport at Segregansett.
“A lot of it had to do with being outside and people who played golf in the past didn’t have much to do and they said, ‘let’s take up golf again,'” he said.
Additionally, everything else was closed in the spring and golf was the only sport they could play, he said.
“Every golf course that I spoke to said it was crazy, through the roof. I just hope it lasts,” he said. “A lot of golf courses are getting a lot of members from this.”
The play this year was in contrast to past years which hasn’t been great, Hallam said.
The clubhouse at Segregansett was closed in the spring because of the pandemic and that forced the cancellation of weddings and other celebrations and also hurt the club financially, he said.
Paul Champagne, clubhouse manager at the John F. Parker Municipal Golf Course, said several leagues play out of there and the course is usually busy.
Even with that, though, this year was especially busy, he said.
“I saw a lot of golfers here that I’ve never seen before,” particularly golfers in the 25 to 40-age range, Champagne said.
“I don’t know the reason, he said, saying it could have been that people had more free time because they were out of work or working from home or they lacked other things to do.
“We didn’t expect that volume. It continued through the summer until Labor Day when the leagues ended,” he said.
They sold more golf equipment in July than they have ever sold in a month, he said. “It just shows there are lots of new people joining the sport. Now we’re having shorter days and people are still trying to get into it,” he said.
Generally, Sundays are slow at the course, but not this year, he said. Revenue spiked 1 [1/2] times on Sundays.
If people don’t schedule a tee-time by Wednesdays, they won’t be playing on the weekends because of the sport’s popularity this year, he said. “It’s been a good year despite a shortened year,” Champagne said.
Sue Carlson, who has leased the Whaling City Golf Course with her husband, Bruce Carlson, the last three years from the City of New Bedford, said it began to get busy in late spring right after they reopened after being shut down for April and part of May.
“It was very busy through most of the summer,” she said, adding it wasn’t busy during the summer of 2019.
She attributed the renewed interest at Whaling City to two things — improvements to the course and COVID-19. They invested in an irrigation system; improved the bridges with help from the city; and upgraded all the greens and fairways.
“People love the course, but it was in disrepair. Now people are coming back,” she said.
The course gave local golfers the opportunity to be outdoors and recreate, while complying with COVID-19 guidelines, she said.
They saw golfers in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s enjoying themselves on the New Bedford course. “It has given us a lot of hope again,” she said.
The Touisset Country Club, a 9-hole golf course in Swansea, saw the same variety of golfers this past summer.
“We have seen more faces, more new faces and more younger folks,” said Diana Nolan, co-owner and vice president of the Touisset Country Club. “Overall, I think there were more people, more happy people” getting outside and enjoying last summer’s beautiful weather.
“It’s a godsend,” she said. “For a while golf was the only sport you could play and from a business standpoint we were lucky,” she said. “It’s a place they can come and be almost normal again.”
One downside was that maintenance at Touisset was “a challenge” during the pandemic, but family members stepped up and helped, she said.
“Golf is improving morale. There is nothing more this country needs than a morale boost,” she said.