In a positive twist to the Covid-19 crisis that has handicapped so many businesses and turned lives inside out, Ottawa-area golf courses have been booming since they were cleared to open in mid-May.
The forecast calls for 32 C in the shade Wednesday, followed by 34 on Thursday and 36 on Friday.
Time to heed those heat warnings and head inside in search of air conditioning, right?
Apparently not if you’re a golfer.
From east to west and north to south, nothing, it seems, can keep golfers away from the fairways and greens in and around Ottawa.
In a positive twist to the Covid-19 crisis that has handicapped so many businesses and turned lives inside out, golf courses have been booming since they were cleared to open in mid-May.
Tee times have become precious commodities, both for private and public clubs. If you want to get into the swing of things at a public facility, be prepared to book several days in advance.
“I’ve been a member of the PGA for 40 years and for more than 10 years here and it has never, ever, been like this,” said Danielle Nadon, head pro at Kanata’s picturesque Loch March Golf and Country Club, a higher-end public layout.
Loch March, which prides itself on its 11-minute break between tee times, has routinely seen more than 200 golfers every day. Given the demand, it’s now an extended day, according to Nadon.
“We’ve moved tee times back to 6:30 a.m. We’ve never gone that early before.”
It’s a similar message elsewhere.
“Our tee sheets are full from start to finish every day,” said Matt Willman, operations manager at the semi-private Cedarhill Golf and Country Club, a Bryson Dechambeau drive north of Barrhaven. “You might find a few gaps, but not many.”
There’s plenty to chew on here.
Golf has always been a social game, but it has now proven to also be the ultimate social distancing game — for all age groups — as we navigate through changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
From a mental health perspective, the population needs an outdoor break from being largely house-bound since mid-March.
Just like cycling and tennis — bikes and racquets are also in short supply in sporting goods stores — golf has become a safe haven for exercise.
With a few minor changes from pre-coronavirus rules, including limited access to pro shops, an emphasis on online bookings, one-rider-per-cart policies and alterations to the flagstick and/or holes that keep golfers separated, the games can go on.
Unlike the vast majority of sports, players with different experience and skill levels can play together.
In an optimistic sign for the golf industry, there has been an across the board surge in popularity, including among juniors who have in the past deemed the game as too slow, too boring and too frustrating.
“A lot of people are playing more golf than usual,” said Rob Howell, general manager at Metcalfe Golf Club, south of Ottawa. “A lot of it is because of the social side of things. In our case, we’ve tried to target juniors and families and we have programs in place for that. It’s full and we’ve tried to spread things out as much as we can through the entire day.”
With summer camps, gyms and sports requiring close contact shut down, golf has become a landing spot for youths desperately seeking activity.
“There are definitely a lot more kids coming out,” said Willman, who has seen a jump of 30 per cent in walk-up traffic at semi-private Cedarhill. “Maybe it’s a case of the parents working at home and dropping off the kids for a four-hour, 18-hole round.
“The fact that the kids are coming out is a really good sign.”
Will golf become more than a temporary fix for juniors?
“It’s really hard to project, if other things open up, but maybe there’s a longer term impact than just this year,” Willman said. “Some kids are thinking, ‘This is actually a lot of fun.’”
It hasn’t been all perfectly straight drives and gimme putts for the golf industry, of course.
Plans for a typical mid to late April opening were wiped out as health agencies wisely took a cautious approach in keeping all but necessary businesses closed until mid-May.
Indoor restaurants linked to golf courses remain closed, although patios with take-out food options and proper distancing have been operating for the past month.
When courses were given the go ahead to open, corporate tournaments — which bring in significant revenue for many layouts — weren’t allowed. There has also been no wedding bliss for golf courses that typically use their facilities for marriage receptions.
On top of that, vacations built around golf outings have also largely disappeared.
“We are well known for our golf corporate events and obviously that part of the business was hurt substantially,” said Alexandre Rousseau, director of operations at Château Cartier in Aylmer. “Some of our services are still closed, (including) the hotel, spa and banquets.”
As for the traffic on the course, however, Rousseau says it has been a dream season.
“It sure was an amazing start,” he said. “With all the (coronavirus) restrictions, we became the escape for a lot of people and our clientele (grew) impressively. We’ve developed a different market. Let’s hope part of them will fall in love with the game and become regulars.”
At this point, even with the lingering heat wave in place, golf fever remains.