Jessica Youn says she never thought she would become a golfer.
“When I was growing up, my dad was this hardcore golfer and he watched golf tournaments on TV,” says Youn while training on the driving range at Racho Park Golf Course in Los Angeles. “I found it so boring.”
But then the pandemic struck and Youn’s outdoor activity options dwindled. When she first tried golf with her husband Scott Iseri, she said the duo became addicted. Youn now longs for the time she can spend in the great outdoors with her friends, and perhaps most of all the challenge of the game of golf.
“It’s an amazing mind game that isn’t boring at all and requires a lot of thought and intent,” she says. “But then there is also this weird thing where you prepare for your swing and there is this wave of calm that comes over you and you have to be really relaxed.”
Both Youn and Iseri are among the roughly 3 million Americans who first picked up a golf club during the pandemic, according to the National Golf Foundation, an industry group that has been keeping an eye on the game since the 1930s.
The game also saw increased interest from female golfers, both adults and juniors. In fact, more than a third of junior golfers in 2020 were girls, compared with 15% in 2000.
Much of the game’s success comes from the fact that it is contactless. In general, players only touch their own equipment, and social distancing, especially on full courses, is easily enforced.
But as the restrictions of the COVID era ease and the opportunities for outdoor entertainment expand, many fear that the golf revival will not last. Playing 18 holes just takes too long, says Larry Tomoyasu, a golf instructor at Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena.
“It takes five or six hours of gameplay,” says Tomoyasu. “It is [also] very difficult to play well. If you don’t mind playing well, you can play … but playing well is very difficult. “
Despite his skepticism, Tomoyasu says he didn’t see his golf course as crowded as it was during the pandemic. Long queues at the driving range are common. Tee times are in short supply. And the demand for equipment remains high.
“Take a look at our shop. I have empty pens on my glove wall. You can see empty bins in my grip area. I have empty pockets, empty hats, clothes, clubs, ”says Dan Mammano, who runs the Roger Dunn Golf Shop in North Hollywood. “I mean, it’s literally all we have. It’s hard to come by. “
Mammano said the golf apparel and equipment business has suffered from the stresses on the global supply chain that other industries have experienced during the pandemic.
“Right now, our sales are about twice as high as usual,” says Mammano. “If I had the supplies, we could do more, which is amazing, to tell the truth.”
Business can boom. But that doesn’t stop activists and politicians from re-imagining what their local golf courses could become, especially as more people are getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Cristina Garcia, who represents parts of southeast LA in the California Congregation, says local cities and counties should be able to develop golf courses to solve some of the state’s biggest challenges, namely housing construction.
“We know that extra housing is good for my ability to stay in my community and afford it,” said Garcia, a Democrat who tabled a bill this year to repeal some golf course safeguards. “And when you run into those limits of affordability in the affordable part of LA County, what chance do we have if we don’t open such spaces?”
Garcia’s bill won’t come up in this term, but she says she will keep pushing for it next year.