Sand Valley Golf Resort in Neskoosa, Wisconsin. Resort golf destinations are experiencing a resurgence in … [+]
Sand Valley (Jacob Sjoman)
The opening day of the 2021 season for the Sand Valley Golf Resort (April 29) was a busy day with golfers leisurely hike the collapsing prehistoric sand dunes, expansive fairways, and beautifully contoured greens of the central Wisconsin vacation. The outdoor seating areas are bigger than ever thanks to the Sand Valley Food Truck and an outdoor tent that was introduced last year and is now the cornerstone of an improved group deck.
Covid-19 protocols are still in place, with improved hygiene procedures, resort staff wearing masks, and food and beverage offerings that include takeaway and delivery services for guests and bespoke in-room dining experiences. But golf itself looks and feels the same as it always does, with avid golfers traveling to the heart of Wisconsin from all corners of the country to play its three visually stunning courses: the pristine Sand Valley, the wild Mammoth Dunes, and the Par 3 treat called The Sandbox.
Golf thrived in 2020 despite the pandemic as it is a safe outdoor activity that is played by all ages and that is inherently physically distant. However, given the travel restrictions, these skill levels were not observed at many golf destinations. The National Golf Foundation estimates that golfers made at least 50% fewer trips in 2020 than the previous year, the vast majority of them by car. But with air travel gradually returning this year, golf travel is showing signs of a boom of its own as golfers try to scratch their wanderlust.
“Many of the groups that decided to postpone travel last year have postponed this season and they’re coming,” said Sand Valley General Manager Michael Carbiener on the resort’s official opening day. “Every metric we use to measure our business has record levels in 2021. This includes overnight stays, rounds of golf and length of stay. The current bookings exceed all business levels that we have seen in the past. “
NGF surveys showed that core golfers (who play 8 or more rounds annually) expect to take an average of just under two golf trips this year and venture 40% further than if they hit the road a year ago.
Streamsong in Florida had a near-record first quarter in bookings in 2021.
Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of golf resort operators told NGF researchers that their advance bookings for the remainder of this year were higher than any other past non-pandemic years. And warm weather destinations like the secluded Streamsong Resort in central Florida have already benefited from golfers’ pent-up demand.
“The first quarter was one of the best in Streamsong’s nine-year history, and the rest of 2021 continues in that direction,” said Kevin Kennedy, the new general manager of a facility that has nationally recognized courses taught by Tom Doak were designed. Gil Hanse and the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
“The golf industry has seen a surge in participation that has not been seen since the height of Tiger Woods’ fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” added Kennedy. “With that comes the desire to travel with friends to visit high-ranking destinations on the bucket list – like Streamsong.”
About three hours east of Sand Valley, on the shores of Lake Michigan, another well-known Wisconsin golf resort has seen growing interest like never before.
“There are days when our call and online booking volume is almost twice as high as in the past. It’s wild, ”said Mike O’Reilly, director of golf operations at Kohler Golf and its five golf courses, including Whistling Straits, the venue for this year’s Ryder Cup.
Group and company bookings at golf resorts have understandably come back a little slower than vacation travel, but a number of tour operators say business will be boosted in Q3 and Q4 of 2021 with travel and meetings postponed from 2020. NGF’s Resort Survey found that only 40% said bookings for large groups and businesses are currently increasing.
Gamble Sands in Washington recently added a par 3 course to its acclaimed original course … [+]
“We’re seeing groups regroup and bookings in popular domestic vacation destinations like Hawaii, Las Vegas and the like picking up in the fall of 2021,” said Kris Strauss, senior vice president at Troon, the world’s largest golf management company. Troon operates a variety of properties from Kapalua and Princeville Makai golf resorts in the Hawaiian Islands to Gamble Sands in eastern Washington and Troon North, Ak-Chin Southern Dunes and Quintero in Arizona.
“At the beginning of the year, the lack of Canadian travel worried us about markets like Arizona and Florida,” added Strauss, referring to restrictions on avid golfers north of the US border. “But the demand and interest in these markets was so great that other regional travelers filled in the gaps for Canadian travel.
At Bandon Dunes, General Manager Don Crowe said he has seen a strong and consistent group travel business since the fall of 2020, adding that the reservations team continues to work hard to postpone travel from early last year when the coronavirus hit the Oregon coast resort forced to close temporarily for the first time in its history.
The 16th hole at Bandon Dunes, one of six courses on KemperSports-managed property in Oregon … [+]
“We’re experiencing incredible demand and we’re seeing record occupancy rates and rounds of golf throughout 2021, even if 24 new guest rooms are available this summer,” said Crowe. “We expect this demand to continue through 2022 based on early bird trends and high call volumes.”
The Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina saw increased engagement in the fall of 2020 and benefited from its central location on the east coast in close proximity to a large number of important metropolitan markets. It also helps that Pinehurst, known as the cradle of American golf, has nine exceptional golf courses, including its iconic No. 2 course.
“The demand we saw in the fall of 2020 was incredible and we expect it to exceed it,” said Pinehurst President Tom Pashley. “We are experiencing this resurgence differently than anything I have experienced in the 25 years that I have been here.”
Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina is one of the national golf destinations with a surge in bookings … [+]
The Bootlegger par-3 course in the forest dunes of northern Michigan has Mafia connections in name only
“Lost” Lido Golf Club is reborn in Wisconsin thanks to Tom Doak and the Keizer family