COVID-19 - Status Updates on Local Courses: Tampa Bay Area Sarasota Area SWFL Area

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September 25, 2020

While driving past golf coures in the Sarasota-Bradenton I see more people playing golf.

According to the National Golf Foundation, my eyes are not deceiving me. Its August rounds played report shows that rounds were up 20.6% year-over-year.

That sets another record for the biggest increase in a peak season month since Golf Datatech began tracking rounds two decades ago. We’re talking about a lift of roughly 10 million rounds in August alone, which comes on top of a burst of 17 million added rounds in June and July compared to a year ago. It’s been quite a summer for golf.

The surge continues to be widespread, too.

For the second straight month, every state in the continental U.S. saw a play increase of at least 2%. Most were far higher, including jumps of 37% in Florida and 31% in Arizona, where oppressive heat and soaring temperatures clearly didn’t hold golfers back. Texas (which ranks fifth nationally with 844 golf courses) actually topped them both at +39%.

Looking ahead to the final third of the calendar – golf’s typical taper period – there’s good reason to believe that the momentum will continue, given anecdotal reports from course operators, record equipment sales and continued spikes in online searches for the game’s ultimate consumable: golf balls. Even Google mobility data offers a clue that people will continue to seek outdoor recreation with the virus lingering.

No doubt the weather has really cooperated. It’s been a spectacular summer for much of the Midwest and Northeast, and the warm weather is showing no signs of stopping even as we pass our second and final equinox of 2020. And yet this prolonged summer may come with heightened late-season tropical activity, including some extreme weather conditions that could affect a number of sizeable golf markets. It’s already been one of the most active hurricane seasons, with storm names cycling through the alphabet once already, and damaging weather has affected the Gulf states a number of times.

September typically accounts for just under 11% of total annual rounds nationwide – even higher than in the spring – so another strong month would make it very possible that we could end up with an 8% increase over last year’s 441 million rounds. For perspective, the last time we saw even a 5% Y.O.Y. increase was in 2012, thanks to an early-season heatwave.

Given that the last three months of play have been in the +15%-20% neighborhood, the assumption we might be see a 10% Y.O.Y. increase for the last four months isn’t an unreasonable best-case scenario.

For the forecasters out there, let’s say that extreme weather kicks in and the final four months end up down 5% versus same period last year. That kind of fluctuation may seem unlikely at this point but is certainly possible – in September through December of 2018, rounds dropped at least 7% each month Y.O.Y. due to heavier-than-normal precipitation. This scenario, likely a worst-case, would still leave us up 2% for the year.

Let’s see what the fall brings.