Doom and gloom gives way to optimism as golf course prepares for new season

KINGSVILLE — The Kingsville Golf and Country Club will not be entering the upcoming golf season with the same nervousness and trepidation as last year.

In the early spring of 2020, the province was in lockdown mode and golf courses were not allowed to open until mid-May. Tournaments, a key revenue driver, were being cancelled and with each cancellation financial projections for the upcoming year darkened. But when the course opened those concerns dropped like a six inch, tap-in putt.

“It went very fast from doom and gloom and this is going to be a terrible year to the 16th of May and ‘Oh, my God, this is going to be crazy,’” said pro shop manager Adam Charles.

At the start of last year, the club had a membership of 547. It now stands at 624, an increase of 14 per cent. The club has a waiting list, something it hasn’t had in years. And many of the new members are between the ages of 19 and 49 — a group that has taken advantage of the club’s sliding scale for membership fees.

“It helps us for the future,” said club general manager Doug Quick. “These younger members are the ones basically that will sustain us into the future.”

Quick estimated a third of the club’s membership is made up of golfers between the ages of 19 and 49.

He said there was a 30 per cent jump in green-fee players last year which helped the club absorb the revenue loss from cancelled tournaments. He said there are early indications that many of the tournaments cancelled last season will return this year.

COVID-19, although it was devastating to many, was the best marketing tool golf has ever seen. Every golf course had surges in play. It was amazing, absolutely amazing.

Normally the Kingsville golf club winds down in the winter, but to take advantage of the large number of snowbirds staying home, the club installed a golf simulator in the dining room.

Quick said the simulator was initially available eight hours a day, Wednesdays to Saturdays, but proved so popular it now operates 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The club is looking to add more simulators next year and possibly create a winter golf league.

“I think it was a combination of a lot of things that made this winter different from any winter I’ve ever seen in this business,” Charles said. “The snowbirds being home — these are people who golf year-round … but they didn’t have that this year. So they were looking for any outlet they could find. But also a lot of the new players, they had just got into the game, they joined mid-year with their buddies … and that enthusiasm and excitement was still there, so we’re definitely seeing a mix of people on the simulator.”

During the winter, apprentice professional Alyssa Getty also taught a Super Speed swing course to increase a golfer’s distance off the tee. The course will be offered this golf season.

One of the biggest and most popular additions last year was the patio west of the clubhouse. “That was a very pleasant situation that happened last year,” Quick said. “The patio kind of saved us and the feedback from people was this should be permanent.”

In mid-April, workers will begin pouring concrete for a 4,000-square-foot patio.

“We think it’s going to be extremely popular. Members, guests and tournament players loved eating out there last year,” Quick said.

Charles and Quick both said COVID-19 was a turning point for golf not only in Kingsville but across Canada and the United States. “COVID-19, although it was devastating to many, was the best marketing tool golf has ever seen,” Quick said. “Every golf course had surges in play. It was amazing, absolutely amazing.”

He said golf is an outdoor sport that allows players to social distance easily. Charles added: “We learned a lot; we turned a lot of negatives into positives. It gave an opportunity to relook at the way we do things.”

Quick said the club usually opens April 1 but could open sooner, weather permitting.

The pandemic has presented obstacles for many businesses, but also opportunities.

Winter golf ‘a thing of the future’

At the Kingsville Golf and Country Club an outdoor patio was created west of the clubhouse to allow the club to serve meals and post-round beers during COVID-19. And to take advantage of the large number of snowbird members not heading south for the winter, the club saw an opportunity and decided to install a golf simulator in the dining room.

The simulator, which allows golfers to play 97 courses — like Bay Hill, site of the Arnold Palmer Invitational — is available seven days a week, 12 hours a day. It costs $40 an hour to play.

Buying a simulator can be expensive, but the club was able to make use of its own flight scope — “the brains of a simulator” — and just buy the software, laptop computer and projector, said club manager Doug Quick.The simulator proved so popular the club is thinking about buying more units for next winter. There is also talk of creating winter golf leagues.

“I think it’s going to be a thing of the future,” Quick said. “It’s going to happen in a post-COVID environment. In the wintertime, why not play golf (indoors)? The technology is very good and the price of the units has come down considerably.”

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