Back in March, Taylor Giacomini was skeptical about how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect the golf industry. The associate professional at Bend’s Widgi Creek Golf Club just did not know what to expect.
“But as everything else kind of shut down or had stricter regulations, we saw an increase of people booking online, people calling to see if we were open,” Giacomini said. “We kind of got a pretty good gist that golf was going to be one of those outlets for people.”
Nationally and in Central Oregon, rounds played this past summer increased significantly compared with last summer.
According to the National Golf Foundation, rounds were up 13.9% nationwide in June, 19.7% in July and 20.6% in August. NGF’s current forecast suggests that rounds could finish up 8% over last year’s 441 million. The golf industry has not had a year-over-year increase of 5% or more since 2012.
At Widgi Creek, Giacomini said that rounds played at the course are up compared with last year, and compared with two years ago.
“This year we had more 230-plus round days than I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been here for six years now,” he said. “It was maybe a 5 to 10% increase (this year). Nothing crazy or outlandish, but definitely an increase.”
Because social distancing is rather easy while playing golf, more and more folks took to the links, including those who have not done so in years, or ever before.
“We saw a big increase in beginners and people picking up clubs for the first time in 10, 15 years, and coming out, getting lessons, and playing afternoon twilight rounds,” Giacomini said.
“Talking to other pros, I definitely think that this year golf was higher on people’s to-do list. More people played and courses were busy.”
At the Greens at Redmond golf course, rounds played saw an increase as well, according to general manager David Holmes, who added that the shorter, executive-style course also hosted more youths than usual.
“We had a lot of families come on out,” Holmes said. “Kids in their early teens and their parents. A lot more of those this year because you couldn’t get out and do too much of anything else. We had a lot of families come out compared to the last couple years.”
Holmes said that members at the Greens at Redmond who typically golf two days a week were playing four to five days a week.
Now that fall has arrived and temperatures have started to drop, numbers of golfers will no doubt start to thin in Central Oregon.
But autumn is a prime time for local golfers as tourists have dwindled, courses offer discounted rates and the weather can stay pleasant well into October and often into November.
“Fall is a great time to golf in Central Oregon,” Holmes said. “You have cooler days and mornings, and a lot of people like that. Fall is just the perfect time to get out and hone your game before the winter comes.”
The Greens at Redmond offers a $25 rate for 18 holes starting at the end of October. (Although the current rate at the course is only $29.) The course, which often stays open year-round, snow permitting, also offers discounts during the fall and winter to members of other Central Oregon courses that shut down for the winter. They can play 18 holes for $10.
Widgi Creek recently dropped its rates to to just $59 for 18 holes before 2 p.m. and $39 for 18 holes after 2 p.m. For comparison, the course’s peak summer rate was $95.
Because of its higher-elevation location southwest of Bend on the way to Mt. Bachelor ski area, Widgi Creek is never open past Thanksgiving, according to Giacomini. But the course typically remains busy through mid-October.
“I’m sure we’ll have an increase in rounds throughout the fall,” Giacomini said. “When it starts to drop below 50 degrees, that’s really when we start to see a decrease in play. The wind starts to pick up and nobody likes playing in the wind. But we do have diehard golfers who will play in the rain, sleet and snow.”
Golf course staffs in Central Oregon hope the increase in play continues into the fall, and even into 2021 as people increasingly seek out outdoor activities that make for easy social distancing.
“I think golf will have a good uptick for the foreseeable future, until we go back to the norm,” Holmes said. “If we even do go back to that.”