Is the golf boom real?
It seems too bad to note that the pandemic, which has now claimed seven million lives and sparked the biggest global economic crisis in more than a century, has been good for golf.
But the numbers don’t lie. In 2021, according to the National Golf Foundation, more rounds of golf were played in the United States than ever before, an increase of six percent, even after a significant spike in the second half of 2020. In the United Kingdom, the number of people rose and players jumped Golf rose from three million in 2019 to 5.2 million in 2020. Globally, the NGF estimates that the total number of golfers rose from 61 million to 66.6 million as a result of the pandemic.
It’s not hard to see why this initial spike occurred. Golf was one of the first recreational activities allowed to reopen after the first round of pandemic lockdowns; Its outdoor nature, massive playground, and socially distanced nature made it an obvious way to get out of doors and have fun at a time when both were difficult to achieve. According to a 2020 NGF survey, 67 percent of golfers explained their increased play by saying they had “fewer alternative ways to spend free time.” The following year, 56% of respondents said golf was a “bigger priority.”
“Golf has been reborn during Covid, especially among the younger demographic,” says architect Phil Smith. “What was once seen as a waste of time – a four-hour game – is now seen as a valuable way to get a break from phones and computer screens. I attribute some of this to the psychological effects of Covid, as people realize what is important to them after That they were locked for a year or so in front of their computer screens.
This change should be good news for those in the golf industry. This may not be the case across the world – British architect and course owner Adrian Steve says the pandemic “probably increased demand by 25 per cent, but it is fading a little bit now, perhaps by six or seven per cent a year”. There are certainly some areas where new activity is minimal. “There is no boom here,” says Swedish architect Christian Lundin very clearly. But the belief of many golfers, that if more people were exposed to the game, they would enjoy it enough to continue playing, appears to be unfounded. In most of the golf world, the boom in participation is very real indeed. This inevitably results in more work for golf course architects.
“We are as busy as we have been since the early and mid-2000s,” says Jeremy Slessor, CEO of the European golf design firm. “The first two months of Covid – March/April 2020 – were a bit worrying, but since then it’s been crazy.”
Slessor says the surge in architecture work began very quickly, before any surge in engagement became apparent, and was driven by the renovation market, where forward-thinking owners realized that if their facilities had been closed or empty for a year, a long time, it was a good opportunity to make improvements. Necessary. “For renovation projects, especially when there was a hotel, people decided early on that summer 2020 was going to be dead, so let’s keep going and do what we need to do,” he explains. “In terms of new builds, people thought we were three to five years away from needing to market and sell this thing, and if Covid is still a serious problem then we’re all in big trouble, plus interest rates are low, so why not move on now?
“If I get a call today from a potential client who has a project ready to go, it will be winter 2025/2026 before we can start working on it, and even that is doubtful, unless one of our committed projects was going to fall through,” Bill Coore says.
What is clear about this boom is that it is happening from the top down: elite companies are busier, and more advanced projects are moving forward faster. However, the surge in activity is fueling almost all levels of business. “My business has boomed since Covid,” says Phil Smith. “Both private companies and resorts have seen an increase. It’s mostly in the US, but I’m getting a few leads abroad for a new course. The nature of the projects is a mix. As an architect, it just depends on the type of developers we approach. But it seems… People are spending money on resort vacations and/or club memberships. It’s been nice to see a rebirth of both since the 2008 debacle.
Texas-based designer Curt Bowman echoes the idea that a boom is in the market. “It’s definitely best for the big players, but it’s still pretty good for most architects – and it looks like there’s still a lot of work there,” he says. “I’ve had a bunch of inquiries in the last six to eight weeks, and I have one project that I’m going to finish this year, and an eighteen-hole redesign that’s going to start late this year or early next year. Add to that a few smaller projects, and it’s going to be pretty good — Two decent projects at once is a lot of work for me. I think the positive reviews and recent rating of the links course at Hacienda Alcaidesa in Spain helped me. The more you are out there and people see your work and talk about it, the better of course.
Trying to market and sell golf design services is always a challenge, but Slessor says that right now, the lack of any definitive trends on where the work is coming from makes directing sales efforts more difficult. “I would say that as an industry we are in a good place, but it is everywhere and nowhere. We look at our inquiries and there are no trends,” he explains. “There is very strong optimism in all the markets we participate in. It seems like everyone is selling their products, properties, memberships, hotel beds, and green fees. In 2021, operators were saying green fees were the bulk of their business, but in 2022, they flipped and said member play had returned in a big way. You can have the best marketing strategy in the world, but if you don’t get out there and talk to people, it’s not going to help you.”
“I think the market has completely flipped from what it was before 2008, when new courses were mostly driven by real estate, especially in the US,” says Bowman. “When you think about the design firms that were dominant at the time, and the ones that are some of the best now, I couldn’t believe the change. Obviously the credit goes to those firms – they do a great job – but when most of the work is redesigned, That changes the economics of projects. It’s difficult to justify multi-million-dollar fees on most remodeling jobs the way you might charge a real estate-based course. Clients have seen architects who aren’t PGA Tour players do great work: It’s easier now in the design world Being a smaller operation than a big old-fashioned store.
“David’s biggest win over Goliath was when Gil Hanse won the Olympics in Rio 2016. He beat all the big names, changed the course of Gil’s career and was very important in changing the course of a lot of architects.
But the biggest boom of all is happening in a few warm-weather locations in the United States. This is most evident in South Florida, where there are a notable number of high-profile projects under construction. Chief among them is the Apogee Club, a 1,200-acre development near Hobe Sound, north of West Palm Beach, backed by Sebonack developer Michael Pascucci and Stephen Ross, who owns the Miami Dolphins NFL team. The first track, West, designed by Gil Hance and Jim Wagner, is supposed to open this winter: It will be followed by the second, designed by Tommy Fazio and former USGA president Mike Davis, with Kyle Phillips working on the third.
Not far away, Ken Bakst, the developer of Friar’s Head on Long Island, acquired a massive 4,000-acre property and hired Whitman, Axland and Cutten (WAC) to design a massive 36-hole and practice facility (as reported in GCA July 2023). Also in Hobe Sound, Discovery Land is developing Atlantic Fields on a 2,300-acre site, bringing its usual description of luxury residential development — where homes apparently start at $3 million — and the Tom Fazio Golf Course to Florida for the first time. Just south, in Palm Beach County, Nicklaus Design, along with new featured designer Justin Thomas, is working on Panther National, another massive 2,400-acre project for Swiss billionaire Dominique Sain.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. “There are at least 15 very upscale private clubs in central and south Florida, and many of them are stand-alone clubs with no development, other than golf cottages or development completely separate from the course,” says golf architect Dana Fry, who lives in Florida. Region. “We (he and partner Jason Straka) are heavily loaded with high-end projects not only in Florida, but also in South Carolina and Georgia to a lesser extent. There is also a lot of planning for golf tournaments in other warm-weather states like Texas, and Arizona would be the same, if not for the lack of The water is there.
“I think there’s been a big shift in what people think they want,” says Rob Collins, who is currently working on a nine-hole reversible course in Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina, among many other projects — and like Core is booked for several years — In golf. I’ve seen it at Sweetens Cove, the nine-hole course outside Chattanooga that made his reputation, and which he now co-owns and manages. People are willing to dig in and play compelling golf. No matter where it is, I don’t think we’re beginning to see the bottom of That movement. And in terms of Florida and other warm weather markets, I think COVID has fundamentally changed our society in ways that we’ll still be learning about 20-plus years from now. A lot of people are realizing that they don’t need to live where they work. So, warmer climates are becoming popular Increasingly and the demand for golf is not being met in a place like South Florida. Especially since almost all the golf courses down there are part of residential developments and not very compelling to this new generation of players. So, something new and thoughtful will be very popular and sought after by all.
Frey agrees: “The wealthy are leaving many northern states in search of better weather and a lower-tax environment. Florida has more than a thousand courses, but most of them are mediocre at best, so there is a distinct lack of high-quality golf for these new residents.” The wealthy have moved south in droves, and if the few good clubs are already full, there will be a demand for new, quality places to play. It is a function of the movement of population combined with the growing interest in the great game of golf that has developed fundamentally since the Sand Hills. There is a lot of movement to Cabo is also in Mexico, mostly wealthy people from western states like California, Washington and Colorado, so there are a lot of golf, hotel and development projects going on there.
It may have taken 15 years, and the nature of the market has completely changed – there is no significant increase in residence-based golf courses being built, although there are projects of that type as well – but golf development is on the rise in a way I haven’t seen in some time.
This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of the magazine Golf course engineering. For a free print subscription or digital copy, please visit our subscriptions page.