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2020 State of the Industry: A year when weekdays were weekends, weekends were holidays

Headshot: Mark Woodward

Headshot: Mark Woodward

Mark Woodward, CGCS

President, Cactus and Pine GCSA
Director of Agronomy, Whisper Rock GC, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Generally speaking, how was the golf season in your region?

The golf season in Arizona was actually very good for many people. Now, certain parts of golf operations were significantly affected, like food and beverage, lodging and other amenities, but in terms of golf rounds, many golf courses did very well. In some cases, golf courses had a record number of rounds during the early months of COVID-19. Most golf courses implemented many COVID-19 measures to keep people safe yet still allow golfers to play.

How was the weather for your area this year?

The weather in Arizona this year has been extremely dry. We’ve had very little rain throughout the entire state. These dry conditions not only affected the golf industry in terms of no rain, not much humidity and low dew points this past summer, but they have also wreaked havoc with the wildfires throughout the state. Additionally, right now in early November, we’re still having temperatures in the low to mid 90s. Very hot and dry.

How was your experience with labor this year?

Overall, our course has done fairly well with labor this year. We’ve been able to fill vacancies fairly quickly just on word of mouth alone. Most of the time, we’ve been able to maintain our staffing levels at or near our budgeted amount. I do know other golf courses in our area have struggled to maintain full staffing. You have to remember that with other industries basically paying the same wage as golf course laborers, people can work for the same wage closer to home in air conditioning using less fuel to get to work, etc.

What were some things that you heard from chapter members about how COVID-19 impacted their year?

COVID has affected everyone in the world, and golf is no exception. We’ve heard of a number of incidences where someone was potentially exposed and had to self-quarantine. To complicate that, in some cases, the exposed person would be in a carpool with someone else, which meant that person would also have to self-quarantine.

Were there notable success stories from your area/chapter this year?

Other than the success of golf in our area in terms of rounds being up in most cases, our chapter has obviously been affected by the pandemic, but we’ve made a concerted effort to keep our members engaged as much as possible. We’ve conducted several virtual meetings including our annual meeting. We’ve also held virtual webinars and educational meetings so our members can not only stay engaged but also earn continuing education units. Our chapter is also heavily involved in the creation of a new entity in Arizona called the Arizona Alliance for Golf, which is bringing all the allied associations together so we have “strength in numbers” when it comes to legislative and regulatory issues that potentially could impact our industry.

What are your expectations for 2021?

I’m afraid the early months of 2021 are going to be very similar to 2020. With that said, I think many golf courses are returning to the relatively new normal and slowly and cautiously opening up their total operations with the appropriate safety measures put into place.

— S.J.


Headshot: Jeffrey Whitmire

Headshot: Jeffrey Whitmire

Jeffrey Whitmire, CGCS

Vice President, Virginia GCSA
Superintendent, Williamsburg GC, Williamsburg, Va.

Generally speaking, how was the golf season in your region?

As far as play, it has been outstanding. Everybody I’ve talked to except resort golf courses, rounds are up. They’re up a lot. Memberships are growing at clubs, public courses have had more play and private courses are being used more by the membership.

How was the weather for your area this year?

Potentially, we are going to have a record rainfall year here in eastern Virginia. Our year-to-date total is 67 inches. The normal annual rainfall total is around 44 or 45 inches.

What were some things that you heard from chapter members about how COVID-19 impacted their year?

With the exception of resort golf courses, everybody’s experience is they’ve been busier than they’ve ever been in the recent past. They face the same challenges of being able to find labor.

You had to make changes in your staffing, social distance everybody. We don’t allow any of our employees to ride in the same cart. They all had their own utility vehicles.

The other challenge was just getting the supplies. You couldn’t rely on the companies to bring it to you. Just like we’re facing at home with toilet paper and paper towels, (there’s the) same issue as getting other stuff that we use on a daily basis.

Were there notable success stories from your area/chapter this year?

We finished our BMPs this year. We were one of the first states to do it, but we had to redo ours in the model of GCSAA. Our committee chairman and board member Tim Durand took that up. We’re seeing some investment (in golf), which is good.

The First Tee Belmont Golf Course in Richmond which was an old Tillinghast golf course owned by the county. The First Tee of Richmond took it over and remodeled it and reopened it as a 12-hole facility with a practice facility. In Richmond, they’re going to have a great facility for junior golf to grow the game.

In Portsmouth, Elizabeth Manor Golf & Country Club was getting ready to close. It’s home to the Eastern Amateur tournament, which, years ago, was one of the
premier amateur tournaments. My group came in, and we bought it and reopened it after $3 or $4 million in renovations there.

What are your expectations for 2021?

I hope golf keeps growing. I think people have rediscovered the good things golf offers and the benefits of the game. It’s becoming more of a family activity than it was before, which is great.

I’m very positive about golf next year and in the coming years. It’s been down for so many years. I’m seeing a trend toward playable golf courses not just trying to build the toughest, meanest golf course, which is impossible to play on and impossible to maintain. That is going to make golf more affordable and more accessible.

— C.H.


Headshot: Scott Thayer

Headshot: Scott Thayer

Scott Thayer

President, Minnesota GCSA
Superintendent, Legends Club, Prior Lake, Minn.

Generally speaking, how was the golf season in your region?

The golf season was record setting in our region, from municipal, daily fee and private courses. Our year started a little odd because of COVID-19, and due to a warm March, most courses were ready to open at the end of March, but our governor shut golf down.

Superintendents couldn’t even take care of their courses during the shelter in place the governor instated. The governor allowed golf on April 18, and ever since that day, golf was booming in Minnesota, nothing like I have ever seen in my 15 years. It was hard to get things done on the course, but we always figured out how to accomplish everything we need to do.

How was your experience with labor this year?

I was restricted to how many guys I could hire due to having one person per vehicle and no sharing of vehicles because of COVID-19 protocols. I was limited to the amount that I usually hire, but I had a lot of applications this year and more interest than ever before. I had two of my employees contract COVID-19 at the end of June, and then, even harder, their dads worked for us as well, so I lost four employees for two weeks in the middle of the year. We figured it all out and made it work, but not without a fantastic staff to step up when it was really needed.

Were there notable success stories from your area/chapter this year?

The MGCSA hosted its fifth Allied Golf Association Day on The Hill event in St. Paul just one week prior to the governor-mandated state shutdown. We used our recent physical presence to push hard for first maintenance and the play of golf as it is a socially distanced safe activity. We also advocated for a bill to define the right for 16- and 17-year-old young adults to work on golf courses. The bill passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by the governor late May.

What are your expectations for 2021?

Next year will be a lot like this year for golf and golf maintenance unless a vaccine is found for COVID-19. Unfortunately, the numbers for infected are not going down, and the hospitals are filling up, at least here in Minnesota. Golf will be up again next year in my opinion. Courses will be busy again, and the challenge will be, can we keep it up all year once again? Even if things start opening up again, I feel this pandemic has changed and will change our country forever, and people will be doing things much differently than they did before the pandemic.

— S.W.

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About the Author: Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb is Golfdom's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at Golfdom, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

About the Author: Seth Jones

Seth Jones, a 18-year veteran of the golf industry media, is Editor-in-Chief of Golfdom magazine and Athletic Turf. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jones began working for Golf Course Management in 1999 as an intern. In his professional career he has won numerous awards, including a Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) first place general feature writing award for his profile of World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and a TOCA first place photography award for his work covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his career, Jones has accumulated an impressive list of interviews, including such names as George H.W. Bush, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. Jones has also done in-depth interviews with such golfing luminaries as Norman, Gary Player, Nick Price and Lorena Ochoa, to name only a few. Jones is a member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.

About the Author: Christina Herrick

Christina Herrick is the former editor of Golfdom magazine.


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