Busy courses expected amid golf resurgence

by Judy Stringer

The decade or so before the Coronavirus pandemic saw thousands of U.S. golf course closures as the number of golfers shrank and the appetite for developable land expanded.

In two local examples, the 168-acre former Boston Hills Country Club was cleared to make way for a new Costco store and Arhaus headquarters, and developers are currently building homes and a mixed-use retail development on the former 148-acre Rosemont Country Club property in Fairlawn.

The tide, however, is turning.

According to the National Golf Association, overall participation in the sport increased by 1.1 million – to 37.5 million Americans – between the beginning of 2020 and end of 2021. Meanwhile, the number of course closures in 2021 was down 53% from its peak two years earlier.

“When the pandemic first started and a lot of things shut down, golf was one of the few activities that people could still partake in and do so safely,” said Damian Cosby, a PGA professional and director of golf operations for Cleveland Metroparks. “So, there’s certainly been an uptake in revenues and rounds played.”

Number of rounds played at the Metroparks’ eight courses, which include Seneca Golf Course in Broadview Heights and Sleepy Hollow in Brecksville, jumped 32% in 2020. Seneca alone had a 54% increase in 2020 over its 2019 usage.

Cosby credits the growth to both new and returning players. Cut off from other “contact” sports that were sidelined during COVID-19, first-time players turned to golf as a competitive outlet.

“Then we saw a lot of people come back to the sport because they couldn’t go to the gym and walking a golf course is a great way to exercise,” he said. “I think a lot of those folks fell back in love with golf and have continued to play over the last two and a half years.”

Cosby said programs to diversify the sport, such as First Tee Cleveland and Youth on Course, are also part of golf’s resurgence, introducing it to audiences that have not historically had access to courses.

He anticipates 2022 will be another banner year for both private clubs and public ones like those he oversees.

“As a player, I personally hate to see any golf course close and I’m happy that it appears much of that is behind us now,” Cosby said. “And while it’s been a little tricky with the weather early on, we have been busy so far and there’s no reason not to expect that to continue.” ∞