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

Headshot: Jason Hollen

Headshot: Jason Hollen

Jason Hollen

President, West Virginia GCSA
Golf course and grounds superintendent, Stonewall Resort, Roanoke, W.Va.

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

For the situation, it was good. Good to very good. We were able to have some record-breaking rounds. Part of that was twofold: The weather was a big issue, and obviously, with the pandemic pushing people outside so they weren’t going crazy inside helped.

How was your experience with labor this year?

When the shutdown came in our state, golf was determined to be essential. A portion of my crew was furloughed, and the other portion was reduced in hours. We were going to open at the end of March, and we did open on time. We did it with a reduction in hours, which I picked up a majority of those hours. Some of our furloughed employees were able to return. Those guys were able to go back up to full hours.

A lot of local (courses) had similar stories. Staff had gotten cut to the point where the superintendent and sometimes the golf pro would be mowing the place.

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

Play was up. We doubled cart traffic for about two months. It was an increase in play, but it came at a little bit of a cost.

The labor issue is everybody being cut to the bone. I think a lot of people did a very, very good job. I know the fear among different people that talk to us, they hope ownership and management don’t go ‘they did a great job with 3 people, why do they need 9 people?’ Hopefully, a lot of people understand that it was some kind of anomaly.

What are your expectations for 2021?

The weather has always been a factor. If we have a similar type of weather, are (rounds) going to be above what we experienced this summer? I don’t know. I think I would prudent to budget a bit more.

We’re not going to get 100 percent retention. If you’re able to retain some of these folks that came out for the first time, wow, what a step forward.
Labor will be a challenge. It’s always going to be a challenge.

I’m not super bullish on 2021. This will be a good year to gain some kind of traction and build it in 2021 for the entire industry. Looking into next year, we have to be realistic.

— C.H.

Ryan Semritc

President, Western Washington GCSA
Superintendent, Willows Run Golf Course, Redmond, Wash.

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

It’s a story of two worlds here. The public golf courses have been absolutely jam-packed. I’m at a 45-hole public facility, and we have had our best year since I’ve been here.

There are a few public golf courses who have really struggled. They’re mostly ones that really catered to having events and had events every day, and that’s really stung for them. But, I would say, 90 percent of the golf courses, public golf courses, have had the best year they’ve had in a decade.

How was the weather for your area this year?

We had the best April weather we’ve probably ever had. And, we were closed the entire time. I think it didn’t rain here for three weeks. Summer was pretty mild. The big story here was the smoke in September. We actually closed our golf course for two days. There was a good two weeks in September where it would have been 85 and sunny, and we couldn’t see down the parking lot.

How was your experience with labor this year?

I had no problems finding labor. Ten of my 12 seasonal guys were all cooks from kitchens. We actually had a bigger labor market to pick from just because we were one of the only activities that were allowed. Labor this year was not nearly as much of a struggle as it has been in years past.

I do know that there were a lot of golf courses here who were on, we’ll call them reduced skeleton crews, for the summer, just to try to make up for what was lost. There was a large number of people whose budgets were reduced. I was fortunate that didn’t happen here, but I know that surrounding our region, that was a serious problem.

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

In the beginning of it, we had one golf course that had everybody quarantined for two weeks. But after that, I didn’t hear of anybody who actually had to close for any extended period of time because of COVID.

I’ll say everybody was really proactive in doing things that were keeping their crews safe and also getting the job done. We had an awful lot of superintendents who were at the beginning speaking up about the importance of keeping everybody safe, which I found pretty refreshing.

Were there any notable success stories from your chapter this year?

There’s a big one: The superintendent’s name is Marcus Harness at Sand Point Country Club. They had a complete remodel from David McLay Kidd. They were finishing construction and finishing renovations right up to when golf courses were closing. They got it done at the end of June. This was his first season — they’re opening a new golf course, COVID (hit) and he had a brand-new baby. His circumstances were particularly difficult to navigate there.

What are your expectations for 2021?

We were pretty proactive as an association. In April, we decided to make our big winter meeting in December, the Washington Turf and Landscape Show, virtual. And, we had decided then to basically plan on having everything being virtual up until the middle of 2021.

The biggest challenge has been continuing to give members a reason to be members of our association. We’ve been fortunate that our Executive Director Bill Ackerley has been a shining star of leadership through this. With the circumstances of 2020, the cream has risen to the top, so to speak.

— A.H.

Joe Aholt

President, Idaho GCSA
Superintendent, Hillcrest Country Club, Boise, Idaho

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

Rounds just went up. We average about 28,000; we’re going to end up with 38,000 rounds. And then, we personally have 30 members on the waiting list. We were probably a few short prior to COVID. I know all the clubs in this valley experienced similar numbers of rounds played.

How was the weather for your area this year?

It was ideal in most of the summer. Idaho is a fairly big state, but I know in the Treasure Valley, within 50 miles of here, spring and early summer were wet and mild, and we didn’t have any temperature extremes where we had the extreme heat. It was ideal growing conditions for the extra golfing rounds that we’ve had.

How was your experience with labor this year?

We kept our numbers intentionally low at the beginning. I didn’t want to have 30 people in the shop all at once. We ramped up and had our normal numbers later in the season.

During the golfing season we had, including part time, we’ll have up to 30. With COVID going, not knowing what was going on, we were trying to maintain the golf course with 18, and we were cutting a few corners at the very beginning.

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

We talked rounds and everybody’s up 25 percent to probably 40 percent on rounds. Not only did we get more rounds, but we also got more carts. We had single-rider carts. What we’re seeing is the entrance and exit points next to greens where carts would go, we had much more compaction. We’re going to have to come in and aerate and do some things in those areas this fall and next spring as well. I’ve seen more cart damage this year than in previous years because of more rounds and more single-riders.

We still aerated, we still did all the things we needed to do agronomically, other than addressing the car path situations, but we’re all tired. We’re going to have close to 200 players today, in November, which I’m sure is going to be close to a record, almost our record high. We’ve had great weather.

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

As far as income revenue, I think everybody’s very high that way. That’s what drives everything, is income coming in. Everybody’s a little different on how they prepare for COVID, but I haven’t heard of an entire grounds crew or bunch of superintendents getting sick. I’d count that as a success.

What are your expectations for 2021?

I think we have to deal with more scatter signs, more play control where (golfers) can come and go on the golf course. Other than that, it’s fairly similar. Budgets, they’re going to be adequate just because of rounds played and the demand. I don’t think anybody’s budget is going to drop next year, which is nice.

— A.H.

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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

About the Author: Christina Herrick

Christina Herrick is the former editor of Golfdom magazine.

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