The hillside views aren’t the only thing elevated at Newcastle Golf Club; play is also popular.
Rounds of golf played there and at other courses in Puget Sound, the state and the nation have increased since the pandemic began early last year. Customers flocked to a safe, socially distant outdoor activity when other recreational pursuits were closed or severely restricted. The courses are reporting more rounds of regular players with more flexibility to work from home, more young people, and more female players – a healthy demographic mix that course managers want to continue to attract as more activities reopen and around the time and that People’s money compete.
“I don’t think any of us would have been more surprised than we were when we went towards the end of the traditional golf calendar last year, late September, and golf was still hectic. “Said Simon Wheeler, General Manager of Newcastle Club, one of 10 Puget Sound courses managed by Oki Golf. Other Oki locations include The Plateau Club at Sammamish, The Golf Club at Redmond Ridge, Harbor Pointe Golf Club at Mukilteo, and Washington National Golf Club at Auburn.
“And I think when we came out at the end of the year … no one would have predicted this would be sustainable … we just didn’t believe the wave would go on and go and go – and it did,” Wheeler said in early April. “I think we really saw that in the first quarter of this year too.”
Even taking into account several weeks of course closings in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic last year, when large parts of the country were closed, the number of rounds played nationwide rose 13.9 percent in 2020 compared to 2019 and golf, according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF) Datatech LLC.
The increase in rounds on public, private and resort courses in 2020 was the largest increase in the full year since Golf Datatech began collecting and projecting rounds played in 1998, surpassing the previous largest increase of 5.7 percent in 2012, the research company said in a press release earlier this year. The sale of golf equipment has also increased by 10.1 percent, it said.
By March of this year, the rounds in the US were up 24.3 percent from the first quarter of last year. In Washington, the number of rounds played rose 3.6 percent over the course of the year, after having dropped almost 23 percent by June compared to the first half of 2019, according to Erik Matuszewski, editor-in-chief of NGF.
As of March this year, Washington laps were up 64.2 percent from the first quarter of 2020, Golf Datatech said. For the Seattle area – roughly defined as roughly Tacoma to Everett – data was not available for full year 2020, but monthly games from August to December last year compared to the same months in 2019 ranged from a 19 percent increase in August to 88 percent in December. Cumulative data for Seattle for the first quarter of 2021 was not available, but Seattle was up 167.7 percent in January from January 2020, before declining 5.2 percent in February from February 2020, figures showed.
Shawn Cucciardi, vice president of golf operations at Columbia Hospitality, which manages seven golf courses in the state, including Echo Falls Golf Club in Snohomish, reports strong increases in Columbia-managed courses.
Echo Falls rounds rose 38 percent last year, even with a six-week state-mandated shutdown earlier this year, and double-digit gains continued earlier this year, he said. The story was similar at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge, a private course that Columbia Hospitality 2020 also ran.
Membership growth is record-breaking and the number of rounds of golf there has also increased significantly, he said at the beginning of April and estimated an increase of 25 percent compared to the previous year. That’s a feature when members have a little extra time, such as working from home rather than commuting to town, Cucciardi said. He also expects membership in private clubs to increase and it will be more difficult to book tee times in public institutions.
“I think this trend will continue on the private side,” he said.
Suncadia’s private Tumble Creek Club sold 55 new memberships in 2020, significantly more than in 2019, and the rounds played increased 39 percent, said Jared Jeffries, general manager.
At the Suncadia Resort’s two public courses, Prospector and Rope Rider, rounds increased 32 percent last year and the courses added 35 members who receive unlimited golf with their passes, according to Michael Jones, the resort’s golf director.
Increased rounds were driven by more members, resort guests than the hotel reopened last June, and public games, Jones said. Tom Cade, senior director of communications at Federal Waybased Washington Golf, which represents golfers in the state for the US Golf Association, said the increase in the game is evident to players trying to hit tee times.
“All you really have to do is just go online on any golf course website … just to see if you can book a tee time, and often you have to book two to three weeks in advance,” said Cade.
The state has approximately 276 golf courses, including driving ranges that are not attached to golf courses. Washington Golf and the Pacific Northwest Golf Association – comprised of Washington Golf and the Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia Golf Associations – have the same employees wearing two hats. They jointly own The Home Course at DuPont.
Many new golfers have come into play since the pandemic, Cade said.
“The challenge for the golf industry now is, ‘OK; we have this new interest and this new popularity – how do we keep their interest and how do we keep the ball rolling, so to speak? ‘ “Said Cade, calling it the # 1 challenge in the industry.
Sean Veighey, general manager at Redmond Ridge, has also noticed more people new to the game and people returning to him. From Friday to Sunday he saw more people between the ages of 25 and 35 and more women, and more of them went horse riding.
“We’re just trying to keep them here and give them a good product and service, and I think we’ll keep them,” Veighey said.
Nationally, NGF’s Matuszewski said the game gains “were largely driven by a passionate cohort of existing golfers who took full advantage of the favorable weather, limited travel, remote working arrangements and other temporary factors.”
The number of junior golfers increased by 630,000, beginners by 570,000 and female golfers by 450,000, he said. But NGF golfer surveys show that core golfers (defined as playing eight or more rounds) have played more frequently in the past year and were the biggest driver of the increase in rounds in 2020, he said. Newcastle’s Wheeler also believes that golf is becoming a primary sport rather than a secondary sport for younger people. The trendiness of today’s professionals also helps, from their clothing styles to how their equipment evolves, he said.
Columbia’s Cucciardi sees this too. He is thrilled that of the new golfers who come to the sport, there are more under 40 who see the sport as hip and cool and something to enjoy for a lifetime.
Citing Seattle rapper Macklemore as an example, Wheeler said the musician was not only in love with the game, but recently launched his own line of golf apparel, Bogey Boys, which is helping bring the game to new audiences.
This is what Macklemore hopes to achieve.
In a Forbes story in March, Macklemore said, “We hope to use this platform to open the floodgates to make sure it is accessible to all people. It’s an expensive sport, of course, but there are ways to get around it. There are great local community courses across the country and I think that’s what bogey boys will be focusing on in the months and years to come – how can we as a brand involve more people, involve more young people and help make sure? that everyone who wants to practice this sport has access to it? “
That must be music to the ears of the golf course operator.
Would you like to swing a special golf trip? These courses are among the top rated in the state.
For us, almost every golf course is a great experience because we play golf. Beats work right?
Of course, some people golf “work”, trying to develop relationships for new business, promote more business, perhaps entertain and thank a customer for continued business, or treat colleagues for a job well done. It’s been part of the game for years.
But what if you’re looking for a very special place to play in Washington, be it for business or pleasure? We used reviews from Golf Magazine, Golfweek, Golf Digest and Golfers’ Choice on GolfPass.com to see which courses are in the top 10 or 15. Remember: some places on the lists are private, unless you know a member and are invited or entered, you’ll have to stick with the public venues – and there are many great ones to choose from.
Some courses, like Gamble Sands in Brewster, Chambers Bay in University Place, and Wine Valley in Walla Walla, showed up on all four lists we checked, but others also showed up on multiple lists. These include the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton, Salish Cliffs Golf Club in Shelton, and private golf courses like Tumble Creek in Suncadia and Aldarra Golf Club and Sahalee Country Club, both in Sammamish. Of course (no pun intended) there are many other places that are outside of this ranking and also score in the outstanding area.
If we ventured into the distance, we’d be remiss, not to mention Bandon Dunes in southwest Oregon, which often receives national acclaim. The architect who designed it also designed Gamble Sands.
Washington Golf, one of the largest amateur golf associations in the United States, maintains a directory of all of the state’s golf courses. The website allows users to click on a course for basic course details as well as its course and slope ratings, and the website includes course phone numbers and links to course websites for more information. It is searchable by city or course name.