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2023 State of the Industry: Golfers were “beating down the door” to play in 2023

By , and |  November 28, 2023 0 Comments

“If you ask any of the courses around here, they’d say they had a great season, a really busy golf course making a ton of revenue,” says Matt Partridge, superintendent at The CC of Rancho Bernardo and the president of the San Diego GCSA chapter. “And we can’t wait for winter when it slows down a little bit, because it’s been really busy.”

Those sentiments were echoed by most of the chapter presidents from around the country the Golfdom staff spoke to in early November for our annual State of the Industry Report, sponsored by Nufarm. Rounds are up, the weather was good and labor is still a challenge. But overall, it seems these presidents agree that 2023 was a banner year for the industry.


Jeff Wichman

Jeff Wichman

Jeff Wichman

President, Rocky Mountain GCSA

Superintendent, Patty Jewett GC, Colorado Springs, Colo.

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

It was great. Golf rounds were just through the roof. They were beating down the door to play, which is a good thing.

How did the weather treat your area?

It definitely was interesting. In March we had zero spring, it was super cold and firing up the irrigation system was extremely hard. So it seemed like we went from winter and then once April came right to summer. Once summer hit for us, we got increased moisture in Colorado, which was very welcome. I went from averaging 13 inches of precipitation a year to, right now, 18 inches and the year’s not even done. So that was great.

What was the labor pool like this year?

After 2020, the pandemic, I struggled. This is the first year where I’m starting to see an improvement. And what’s been saving me is some of my older retired guys, more of them started returning. So for me this year, labor wasn’t as big a deal. It was a little easier for me for the first time in probably three years.

Any notable success stories from your chapter or region this year?

Two things. The first would be our government leg. Our lobbyist, Jennifer Castle, has been doing a lot of work up in the state regarding pesticides and preemption. They want to have local control and we’re just not for that. The more I get into government, it’s pretty interesting, that’s been a fun learning curve and that’s something that’s just not going to go away in our industry at all when it comes to pesticides and water and the environment. I think all chapters are really stepping their A-game up there for sure. Another one was the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills. That was just an outstanding tournament and fun to watch. Cherry Hills, Josh (Hester) and his staff represented the state of Colorado. It was great in all aspects of turf and just everything.

What are your expectations for 2024?

It needs to be said: government pressure is not going away. We need to stay on top of that. And for us, I just see rounds going up, I truly do. I see the younger Millennials coming out and playing more and enjoying it more. I think golf, in all, is heading in the right direction.

— Seth Jones


David Beanblossom

David Beanblossom

David Beanblossom

President, Kentuckiana GCSA

Superintendent, Chariot Run Golf Course, Laconia, Ind.

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

Speaking for our golf course, we surpassed last year’s total revenue by the end of September. I think that golf is still on the increase here in the Indiana and Kentucky markets.

How did the weather treat your area?

It has been a great year weather-wise. January and February were warmer than normal. So we got off to a good start. It has been dry for the last two months. The first week of July was the last time we had any measurable rain until last week, but we only got a small shower. The summer has been extremely hot. We had a hundred-degree-plus temperatures. Also, the spring was a little warmer than what we average.

What was the labor pool like this year?

I think the labor pool has been up a little bit this year. We had people walk into the office that we had to turn down. In the past, we had been hiring every warm body that walked through the door. Fortunately, this year has been a little easier to find help.

Any notable success stories for your chapter or region this year?

We hold a fundraiser golf tournament every year for our chapter. This year was a record year for us with the funds we raised. We do legacy scholarships with the money that we raise. It was great to have a fundraiser to keep those platforms in place.

What are your expectations for 2024?

I keep thinking this golf bubble will burst, but it keeps getting stronger and stronger. Our company owns four golf courses. Each of those courses is seeing record rounds in revenue year after year. I think golf has seen the biggest benefit from the pandemic. People have fallen in love with golf again. They enjoy playing it. And it just keeps growing and growing. We hope to continue growing as well.

— Brian Love


Steve Kealy

Steve Kealy

Steve Kealy, CGCS

President, Western Washington GCSA

Superintendent, Glendale CC, Bellevue, Wash.

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

We’re a private club just outside Seattle. We used to do about 25,000 to 26,000 rounds a year. That was pre-COVID. Now we’re right at 40,000 rounds. So, we’ve seen a huge increase in rounds played, and it’s up everywhere, public, private, doesn’t matter.

How did the weather treat your area?

It was a good year, but it was a much drier spring than is typical — I’m sure we’ll pay for it now.

What was the labor pool like this year?

It’s difficult, and it’s expensive. Here in the greater Seattle area, you’re paying $20 an hour at fast food places. Trying to get summer help is tough because jobs are so abundant. You can go anywhere and get a job. We’re competing against construction and general labor across the board, it’s costing us to get someone in the door. We’re paying $23, $24, $25 an hour.

For Western Washington GCSA President Steve Kealy, CGCS, labor has been a challenge with wages continuing to rise into the mid-$20s. (Photo: Steve Kealy)

For Western Washington GCSA President Steve Kealy, CGCS, labor has been a challenge with wages continuing to rise into the mid-$20s. (Photo: Steve Kealy)

Any notable success stories for your chapter or region this year?

No one won the Nobel Prize or cured cancer, but I would just say the chapter is healthy. It’s a tight-knit group.

What are your expectations for 2024?

I don’t see golf slowing down at all. Most of the clubs here have waitlists, and I don’t see that changing.

– S.J.


Derek Haley

President, Eastern Shore Association of GCS

Superintendent, Talbot CC, Easton, Md.

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

It has been a pretty good golf season. We certainly didn’t have any extremes. It was even throughout the whole year with no real surprises.

How did the weather treat your area?

We started with a cool spring. That affects our course because we have bermudagrass. It was an odd beginning of the year. Once the weather warmed up, the bermuda started going. It is still going strong now. We had long periods of high nighttime temperatures with heat and humidity. We had very few breaks, there were fewer 75-degree-plus nights this year than ever.

What was the labor pool like this year?

It has been difficult in our area because we are a pretty remote golf course. Thankfully, I have a tenured crew. I haven’t had much turnover in the last couple of years. I keep my guys busy. For the most part, they are full-time because we are doing a lot of renovation projects, large-range work and off-season stuff. My club is allowed to keep eight full-timers a year, along with trying to hire another eight to ten seasonal guys.

Any notable success stories for your chapter or region this year?

In terms of our chapter, we’ve come a long way from where we were last year. We made a bad hire for our administrative assistant a few years ago. We had a lot of our financials get off-track. But we replaced that person with someone good, so we’ve been bouncing back. For my presidency, last year was extremely stressful, but we’ve completely turned around. Now, I’m ecstatic about the future.

What are your expectations for 2024?

I still haven’t looked toward 2024. I’m still in the middle of a big renovation project right now, which we will work on through the end of the year. Once that is finished, I’ll set those goals and expectations.

– B.L.


Glenn McWhirter

President, Alabama GCSA

Superintendent, Lagoon Park Golf Course, Montgomery, Ala.

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

We’re still seeing the boom down here in Alabama. I know for us (at Lagoon Park GC) we were up 4,500 rounds this year. We saw a pretty good revenue increase throughout the state. I know the Robert Trent Jones golf Trail had another record year. A lot of our country clubs are growing, going from hunting members to having wait lists. So we’re still experiencing that post-COVID boom for sure.

How was the weather in your area?

We had a bit of a mild spring and one of the hottest summers (in history). We set some temperature records in late July and into August. It was a little bit drier than we’ve been in the past few years. We averaged 60-70 inches of rain in this area over the last three years and we were down pretty drastically this year. I’d say since mid-August, we’ve had an inch-and-a-half of rain and that’s pretty normal throughout the state. It’s been a dry fall, but overall, the weather has cooled off. It’s been more of a true fall here, where usually we go from summer to winter.

What was the labor pool like this year?

Talking with superintendents throughout the state, I would say it’s been more of an inconsistent thing, where guys have periods where they’re heavily staffed. Then they’ll lose two or three guys to school and sometimes it’s hard to fill those positions, but overall, I would say it’s been better.

I know, for us, we’ve started to be flexible with schedules and maybe doing some overhiring, just knowing that I’m going to lose a few people here and there. We have two long days during the week, and we’re closed on Tuesday whereas all of the other country clubs in the area are closed on Mondays. That flexibility for guys being able to get off early a couple of days a week and being able to get other things done has really helped us.

Any notable success stories for your chapter or region this year?

We hosted a pair of First Green events, which went well. We had over 150 sixth graders (over the two events) and several superintendents from local courses come down and help. The first one we had was definitely a learning experience.

The second one we had went really well. I’d say out of the 75 kids that attended, when I asked, “Could you see yourself doing something like this as a career?” We had probably 20 kids raise their hands. So, I think we made a good impression. The school system we worked with was very positive, so we’re looking at doing some more of that next spring.

— Rob DiFranco


Ryan Blechta

Ryan Blechta

Ryan Blechta

President, Peaks & Prairies GCSA

Superintendent, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, Big Sky, Mont.

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

It has been a good season. We are a private club, so we were up on rounds, but not by a lot. Back when COVID first hit, we had more requests for rounds, now, we seem to have settled back to where we were at pre-COVID as far as rounds are concerned.

How did the weather treat your area?

It has been very wet. In fact, it has been one of the wettest seasons that we’ve had on record. In that aspect, Mother Nature helped us quite a bit with not needing to water the course as much and not having to chase dry and wet spots around.

The golf season was a wet one for Ryan Blechta, president of the Peaks & Prairies GCSA, and others in Montana. (Photo: Ryan Blechta)

The golf season was a wet one for Ryan Blechta, president of the Peaks & Prairies GCSA, and others in Montana. (Photo: Ryan Blechta)

What was the labor pool like this year?

The labor pool was pretty normal this year. It was better than the year before. But it is still tough to get labor up in our area. Mainly because people just aren’t interested in manual labor. Labor is always the biggest issue. Trying to maximize production level on your golf course with less labor is, I think, what everybody is trying to look at.

Any notable success stories from your chapter or region this year?

As I said, labor is always a shortage everywhere. The bigger the golf course, the bigger the budget. And that means you can get more bodies. It is tough to get over 20 guys on a crew. Thankfully, I haven’t heard of any major difficulties in our area. Whether it’s through doing less or trying to find areas where you can manage some of the technology out there, like sprayers or mowers, I think everyone on our team is looking at ways that things can get done and provide members with a well-conditioned golf course.

What are your expectations for 2024?

Our outlook for 2024 is just continuing to maintain the golf course at a high standard knowing that we will probably not have another wet year. How can we correctly manage our irrigation system? Or can we be fully staffed? Goals like that. We also built a new par three course, so we’ll need more staff numbers. So, we want to have enough bodies to get everything done.

— B.L.


Matthew Fiorentino

President, New Hampshire GCSA

Superintendent, Profile Club, Bethlehem, N.H.

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

It’s been relatively good considering the weather that we’ve had. But I have had a fairly productive season. We were up percentagewise across the board for everything.

How did the weather treat your area?

The weather has been the difficult part for us. We were spared in New Hampshire, but others had issues. Vermont had bad rain in July, so I didn’t get to irrigate for almost 11 weeks through the summer. The biggest impact has been our root systems with too much water. I have never seen my roots come up to the shallow depth that they did. Then, it got hot and overheated the soil.

What was the labor pool like this year?

The labor pool has been tough. I’m lucky that my crew is small. Three years ago, when I was establishing the crew that I currently have, it was just cycling people and them not wanting to work. But we are also very seasonal, so you have a situation of hiring people and knowing they can bounce back and forth between a summer and winter job. Being able to offer good employment with benefits can be hard up here.

Any notable success stories for your chapter or region this year?

This year has been a little crazy for me. We have been wrapped up with installing a new irrigation system. There is that and doing what I must do to make everything work every day. Being on top of all the little details has been difficult for me this year, but I’m glad to do it.

What are your expectations for 2024?

My expectations are high. The biggest expectation is to have a fully operational automatic irrigation system. That will make my life easier. But from a personal standpoint, I want to implement our capital investments here at the club and get the proper infrastructure in place to efficiently run a golf course. There will be better greens and water management. A lot of projects will be able to happen that will help get the course over the hump of moving into the future.

— B.L.


Ernie Pock

President, Cactus and Pine GCSA

Director of Agronomy, Grayhawk Club, Scottsdale, Ariz.

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

It was a good season for us with revenues. In the summertime, we were getting greens fees over $100, which is unheard of. Now we’re starting to get into the part of the year where courses are just opening back up and it looks like we’re going to be in a good spot and have a good season just because the weather seems to be holding well. If you asked us a year ago, we were thinking in the fourth quarter (of 2023) we might start to see that COVID kick wear off, but we haven’t.

How was the weather in your area?

It was a weird year for us. I think in February, I didn’t irrigate the golf course once, which in Arizona is unheard of, but we just kept getting timely rains. We’d get a little half inch and that would carry us for another five or six days and then another inch that would carry us again. That really helped us manage our water.

The Spring was really nice, we got pretty dry through April and then our last rainfall was March 18. We didn’t see another drop of rain on the golf course until, around August. Talk about a very hot summer, I’m a native here, and normally if it’s not over 115, it’s not hot. Well, we had a couple of weeks in a row where we stayed above 118 and we didn’t get below 90 at night.

What was the labor pool like this year?

I think the biggest challenge for us, looking forward as an industry, is that we’re not getting a good stream of people who want to create a career in turf.

We do a lot of talking about how to create that kind of environment where you can get guys from the Midwest and the East Coast to start coming out to Arizona. We saw that a lot in the 90s, but, now, golf positions aren’t really changing much. When I got my start in the business, golf courses were being built left and right, so you’d be an assistant for one or two years and then boom you’d be given a superintendent’s position. Well, now, nobody is moving and that puts a bit of stalemate on these young ambitious turf guys.

Any notable success stories for your chapter or region this year?

With water on golf courses being front and center, we have a new organization that the former owner of Grayhawk, Gregg Tryhus, put together called the Arizona Alliance for Golf. It’s an organization that covers all aspects of golf, whether it’s the superintendent, the golf professional, the hospitality team and the golfers themselves. We’re trying to get everyone involved with golf speaking with one voice and working with the state to make sure they protect the game.

We’re a $6 billion industry in Arizona and if you ask someone who doesn’t know anything about golf, “Where is most of the water going in the state?” you’d probably hear that it’s golf courses and that water is wasted. So, we’re really trying to spin that.

What are your expectations for 2024?

We’re still hoping the weather to hold. Next year they’re calling for a super El Nino, which makes me a little nervous since that means it’s warmer and wetter. I think, for us in Arizona, we’re going to be in a good spot still. The customer is still coming out to the desert to play golf because of the climate. I think that’s the one thing that we always have in our favor, sun and warmth.

— R.D.


Chuck J. Connolly

President, Carolinas GCSA

Superintendent, Savannah Lakes Village, Greenville, S.C.

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

As far as rounds we’re seeing, I know that, at my facility and within a hundred miles, we’re seeing a lot of participation and growth at all the clubs.

How did the weather treat your area?

We were a little concerned coming out of last December. We had some freezing cold temperatures that put everyone on high alert. Overall, I think everybody managed through that unscathed. It was a mild spring, so it took a little bit longer for the golf courses to wake up after their winter slumber. But we haven’t heard of any kind of severe winter damage or turf loss. It was a historically dry summer for our western North Carolina folks with around 85 inches of rainfall. Right now, I think that they’re sitting in the mid-fifties. As far as from a golfing standpoint, I think the golfers are loving it.

What was the labor pool like this year?

I think that we mirror a lot of the country in that unemployment is low. That has made us all research long and hard to find quality labor. You can find folks and realize that they don’t want to be working in the golf business. I think it is a little bit harder to find long-term employees. With the low labor pool coming out of COVID, I think we are seeing a lot of people who took early retirement who can move where they want looking for jobs.

Any notable success stories from your chapter or region this year?

I think the Carolinas are seeing a lot of growth. Three or four new constructions are happening. We’re seeing a lot of older clubs doing major renovations. Because of all this, we’re seeing an influx of money.

What are your expectations for 2024?

I think a lot of our expectations depend on politics. Like where we will see our country in a few years, whether recession or political winds changing. I think discretionary income is going to be great. I hope we’ll continue to see this positive growth. I’m really happy with what we’re seeing in golf here in the Carolinas.

— B.L.


Maron Towse

President, Ozark Turf Association GCSA

Superintendent, Schifferdecker Golf Course, Joplin, Mo.

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

For us, our golf season has been really good. Even with us being closed all of October, we still made a substantial amount of money without raising our rates. We have made more money this year than we did the previous year.

How did the weather treat your area?

Mostly, we have been pretty hot and dry. But that is good golfing conditions because you don’t have a lot of rainy days. Typically, we have a lot more rainy days. But this year, we didn’t have to reschedule any tournaments or anything like that.

What was the labor pool like this year?

For the last couple of years, it has been hard for us to get labor. I’ve gone to hire a lot more teachers. They can just come and help us get through the bulk of the summer when they’re done teaching. Doing that has helped with not having to retrain anyone. We have to adapt how we hire, but it has been a lot better going that route instead of trying to have a bunch of guys who want to work 40 hours a week.

Any notable success stories from your chapter or region this year?

Play was up pretty much everywhere. A lot of courses have seen their best revenue this fiscal year compared to last year. By September, we were six weeks ahead of the revenue that we normally bring in. Even with us being closed in October, I think we’re going to be ahead by $20,000 more than last year.

What are your expectations for 2024?

Our expectations are going to be pretty high for next year. We are doing a lot of projects right now, so it’s tough to know how all of it will go. But it’ll be interesting to see how we can recover from having all our cart paths redone, which is one of the many projects happening right now. Once we are done with our golf cart project, we are probably going to have a rate increase.

— B.L.


Matt Partridge

President, San Diego GCSA

Superintendent, The CC of Rancho Bernardo

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

Most courses around here had a great golf season. Business is great, it’s still booming as far as the dollars and cents. Play has been holding steady, compared to a slight dip last year. Overall, if you ask any of the courses around here, they’d say they had a great season, a really busy golf course making a ton of revenue … and we can’t wait for winter when it slows down a little bit, because it’s been really busy.

How did the weather treat your area?

The weather cooperated. In San Diego, the weather is great for people, but not for growing turf. It’s not exactly the ideal climate as much as people think it is. 

What was the labor pool like this year?

Very challenging. We obviously have other challenges — like water — but without a doubt labor is our biggest challenge, with minimum wage going up. San Diego just passed this, they’re going to require fast food workers to make over $20 an hour, which is going to put a big hit on our labor pool. Finding individuals who want to work in golf course maintenance is becoming more and more difficult. I think this will be our biggest challenge moving forward, over the next 10 years.

Any notable success stories from your chapter or region this year?

There has been a lot of construction, a handful of courses here in San Diego completed some bug projects, some big renovations, big irrigation projects. We also hosted a First Green event at Torrey Pines during the Farmers Insurance Open. It was a huge hit, we’re already planning on doing it again next year. And we also hosted a big event with one of our affiliate members, it’s a Prostate Cancer Foundation fundraiser … we raised the better part of $40,000.

 What are your expectations for 2024?

 First and foremost, we’re looking forward to that First Green event at the beginning of 2024, then the (GCSAA Conference and Show) will be a big event for us locally. And a big highlight-slash-lowlight for us is, we were the victims of some pretty serious financial fraud this year, external to us. But we’ve been able to recover from that, and the plan for next year is to move on from that and get even better and assure our financial safety and fiscal responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

— S.J.


Parker L. Ferren, CGCS

President, Florida GCSA

Director of Golf Course and Grounds Maintenance, Copperleaf Golf Club

How was this year’s golf season in your region?

The game of golf is still on the rise in Florida. For the majority of Florida superintendents, the “busy season” is only just beginning. However, it is safe to say that rounds of golf are continuing to increase for most of us.

How did the weather treat your area?

This was mostly a mild year for us in Florida regarding the weather. Fortunately, there was only one major hurricane to hit the state — Idalia. In late August, Idalia pummeled through the Big Bend region of the state. While the hurricane was still an extremely destructive Cat 4, it did not have as detrimental of an effect on golf courses as some of the other storms over the past few years. We have also experienced on-and-off drought conditions for a large part of the year. Due to the tropical climate in our area, heavy rains are common in the summer months, but early in the year most of us certainly experienced a lack of rainfall.

What was the labor pool like this year?

It is no secret that Florida relies on a very diverse workforce. Without getting into politics, this has obviously been a contentious issue over the past several years, not just in Florida. Rising wage pressures have been heavily impacting the golf industry. We have been forced to become very creative in incentivizing employee recruitment and retention. It is hard to find people who want to wake up at 4 am and work in 95-plus-degree heat outside doing manual labor when the Amazon facility five minutes down the road is paying $5 per hour more to tape up boxes in the AC.

Any notable success stories from your chapter or region this year?

As a chapter, we are working hard to get all of our members to complete the Florida Golf Course BMP Certification Program, administered by the University of Florida. In mid-2022, HB 967 was signed into law recognizing our Florida BMP Certification Program and exempting superintendents from local water and fertilizer ordinances. We continue to build momentum with Rounds 4 Research, raising over $100,000 in the past three years to go directly towards our research efforts.

Additionally, earlier in 2023 we hired Nate Watkin as our director of outreach, to work alongside our executive director, Jennifer Bryan. Nate has already proved to be an extremely valuable asset to our association, focusing primarily on our industry partnership program in addition to membership recruitment and retention. The Florida GCSA is in great hands and headed in a positive direction.

What are your expectations for 2024?

I am fully expecting the game of golf to continue to grow in the state of Florida. Golf course construction has seemingly shifted from a renovation-only state to new courses now being built as well. The pandemic has certainly positively impacted the golf industry. As far as the weather is concerned, we are expecting an El Nino winter, which basically means we are due for a cold, wet winter.

—S.J.

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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: Rob DiFranco

Rob DiFranco is Golfdom's associate editor. A 2018 graduate of Kent State University, DiFranco holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to Golfdom, DiFranco was a reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio


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