The last 12 months

Columns - TEEING OFF

January 8, 2021

Bet when you opened our 2020 State of the Industry issue at this time last year you didn’t expect to be reading the following script a year later:

January: Ah, a new year! The average 18-hole course, according to our research, enters 2020 with a $987,488 maintenance budget, a modest increase over 2019. This was neither the panic of 2010 nor the prosperity of 2000. Signs point to another steady, yet unspectacular, year.

February: Those new snowbirds sure like to play golf and their former neighbors are enjoying non-frozen turf. Favorable southern and northern weather results in a 15.2 percent increase in rounds played nationally over the first two months compared with 2019, according to Golf Datatech.

March: Handshake? Fist bump? Step away? Nobody knows how to react upon seeing industry friends at events such as the New England Regional Turfgrass Conference and Show at the beginning of the month. Nobody knows where 2020 is heading by the end of the month, although a few “experts” predict hundreds of course closures, significant contraction in quality industry jobs and a year without major championships.

April: Foam pool noodles at the bottom of the cups, single-rider carts, bunkers without rakes and 20-minute intervals between times. Welcome to a version of golf none of us had ever experienced — if you are even fortunate enough to experience it. When the National Golf Foundation releases its update for the week of April 5, only 44 percent of golf facilities in the United States are open.

May: Herculean efforts keep golf courses maintained as politicians continue placing essential and non-essential labels on industries and activities. Calculated efforts by associations result in every state permitting golf by the middle of the month.

June: Play … golf! With ballparks, pools, amusement parks and other warm-weather recreational staples closed, golf courses move into the summer 2020 recreational forefront.

July: Good luck trying to find a tee time — and good luck trying to get a course fully prepared for sunup-to-sundown play with a staff much smaller than its projected summer size.

August: The people who started playing more golf in May, June and July play even more golf in August. Rounds played nationally for the month are 20.6 percent higher than in 2019, according to Golf Datatech. Remote work and less business travel keep the GHIN system hopping.

September: That member-guest scheduled for June finally happens. So does that U.S. Open originally scheduled for June. And that on-course slowdown typically associated with the shift from summer to fall? It never happens. Fortunately, quality facilities bypass the easy money presented by abundant demand and complete aerification and other necessary cultural practices.

October: The bosses need the 2021 budget, sales representatives seek decisions on EOP offers and golfers want leaves cleared from everywhere, including bunkers still without rakes. Amazingly, conditions remain splendid despite 11 million more rounds played during the month compared with 2019. Once fearful of potentially stalled projects, builders and architects bounce between northern job sites, improving all areas of golf courses, especially bunkers.

November: The snowbirds are back! Of course, many never returned to their northern homes. Golfers start wondering if they’ll remember how to pull a pin or rake a bunker. Superintendents begin daydreaming of seeing their industry friends again while trying to focus on their fourth Zoom meeting in two days. A thirtysomething from South Carolina engaged to the daughter of a hockey great wins a Masters staged in the middle of football season.

December: Readers of this magazine complete a 35-question survey. More than three-quarters of them feel better about the industry they make innumerable sacrifices to improve than they did in 2019.

Guy Cipriano