COVID-19 has been driving Albertans to golf courses at an incredible clip in 2020.
"Courses are packed across the province. This is a very big golf boom that can be tied into the pandemic," said Kevin Smith, communications director for Alberta Golf. "Once courses opened, people wanted to get outside for their mental health."
Smith said a majority of the 300-plus courses across the province opened in May and most "say it's the busiest [they've] seen it for the past five-to-10 years."
Smith said despite delays due to the pandemic, only one Alberta Golf tournament has been cancelled.
“We usually have a dozen sanctioned tournaments and we were only forced to cancel one,” he said, adding “we had a high turnout at all of the events.”
The McLennan Ross Junior Tour had the highest registration in a decade. “All 20 events have been sold out,” Smith said.
At Red Tail Landing Golf Club, head pro Joshua Davison reports tee sheet volume is up between 15 and 20 per cent over last year.
Davison added the driving range at the club has been “just bonkers busy” since opening in late May.
Like all courses, RedTail — located just east of the Edmonton International Airport — opened with a long list of strict COVID-19 protocols, including no rakes in the bunkers and no touching the flagstick. In the clubhouses, masks are worn by all staff and tables are two metres apart.
The golfing boom has been across all demographics, but especially among junior golfers, said Davison. RedTail is one of 24 courses in Alberta partnered with the Youth on Course program, which allows anyone 18 and under to pay an initial fee of $49 and then play for $5 per round.
"There has been a huge increase in that program. We have had 1,400 rounds from about 90 kids and teens so far this year," said Davison.
And while the on-course activity has been robust, courses like RedTail have been hit hard off the course — namely food and beverage and corporate events.
" We had to cancel 28 large shotgun tournaments — each with 144 people," said Davison.
Like many other courses, RedTail took advantage of a federal government wage subsidy program and has had only a small reduction in staff.
At Westlock Golf Club, 90 km north of Edmonton, the course was able to open in early May due in large part to a work bee by members and local residents volunteering to clean up the course after spring flooding.
Once Westlock opened, the rush was on.
“The tee sheet has been full since we opened," said Pederson, adding, 'It has been good for everyone's mental health. They had all been stuck indoors for so long."
Westlock is taking a hit on the corporate and food and beverage side, but Pederson remains optimistic about the future.
"It has been a very challenging year, but we're doing okay. Everyone has pulled together."