The list of businesses struggling during the pandemic seemingly never stops growing, even more than a year later. However, one of the few industries that has been absent from that list over the last 14 months is golf.
With everything in life turned upside down, and people’s usual routines being tied up with restrictions or shut down completely, people began searching for something that reminded them of their lives before COVID-19. And for many, golf became that escape to normalcy.
“Even last year when we were allowed to open it was ‘OK, you can’t come 30 minutes before your tee time, we don’t have any food or beverage right now because of restrictions, there are no bunker rakes,’ and people didn’t care. They were just so happy to be outside and so happy to be playing,” said Alan Kristmanson, GM of the Whistler Golf Club (WGC).
“What we saw, and I think my colleagues would concur, is people that play golf a fair amount, played a lot. People that played a little, played way more and people that had never played were getting into it. So, it really increased in every sector.”
Despite the season starting slow both this year and last due to travel restrictions, Kristmanson said he saw record numbers at his course in 2020.
Nicklaus North Golf Course GM Jason Lowe echoed Kristmanson. “It was kind of a surprise to us how busy we ended up being last year,” he said, adding that he expects more of the same from the 2021 season.
“Golf is one of the activities that is fairly [COVID-19]-friendly. But it’s kind of a blessing in disguise with the world turned upside down, whereas we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in golf,” said Lowe.
“We’ve never had a waiting list for our membership categories before and this year we’ve created a waiting list for all of [them]. So, golf has evolved nicely over the years and obviously COVID-19 has presented a bit of an opportunity as well.”
Another silver lining from the slow start to the season and the good early weather has been the maintenance work that could be done on the local courses. Lowe, Kristmanson and Kevin McLeod, GM of Sunstone Golf Course in Pemberton, said their courses are in some of the best conditions they have ever seen.
“I’ve played all the golf courses, and everybody’s are in wonderful condition,” said Kristmanson.
“I think we are off to a really good start that way and I think once we do welcome resort guests back, I think they are going to be in for some really good golf experiences.”
Along with maintenance work, some changes have also been made to the local courses over the past year. The WGC did a major renovation on their signature hole, “The Gallery,” by adding more space to the viewing area where people walking along the Valley Trail can stop and watch golfers tee off. They also added a new fleet of carts that are decked out with GPS, fly-over videos and scorekeeping ability, and golfers can also place food and beverage orders from inside the cart.
At Nicklaus North there is a new, year-round, indoor practice facility with two hitting bays and an impact screen that can simulate a real game. Nicklaus North also just finished a $2.4-million renovation on its Table 19 restaurant last June, and is excited to welcome guests back for indoor dining.
Despite golf courses thriving during the pandemic, it isn’t quite business as usual yet with the current restrictions still stopping them from hosting the events they normally would. But they are all keeping their fingers crossed that they will be able to get back to that later in the summer.
Nicklaus North will still be hosting the upcoming Whistler Open, which will be conducted in a way “where there is no [congregating] before or afterwards,” according to Lowe.
As for Kristmanson at WGC, everything is still “up in the air” but he hopes the PGA BC Championship will be able to happen later in the summer.
And out in Pemberton, both McLeod and Christine Kohls, GM of Big Sky Golf Club, are hoping that restrictions will ease enough by the end of summer for them to host tournaments again and welcome back live music in their restaurants.