After two years of masks, lockdowns, social distancing, pandemic scrambling and a typically blustery and frigid Edmonton winter, Edmonton is over-ready fore pleasant, enjoyable and relaxing golf-2022!
Locally, and throughout Canada and the U.S., golfers golfing were among the very few good news aspects of the unprecedented two years of disrupted lives. Surprisingly, the pandemic speedbumps seemed to have boosted the popularity of golf.
Although there isn’t a shred of anything positive about the past two COVID years, Robert Rousselle, Executive Director of the Professsional Golfers’ Association of Alberta (PGAA), highlights an ironic fact about golfers “playing through” the good riddance, topsy turvey two years: demographics. Contrary to gloom and doom warnings about aging golfers and golf’s generational dilemma with younger people wanting a faster pace than the four hours it takes to play 18 holes of golf, there is an unexpected shift in trends. Millenials and Gen X’rs are embraciing the game.
Lo and behold, analysts in the the business of golf point out that the average age of golfers has dropped by as much as three years. “The total number of golfers and rounds played is up, and the average age of today’s golfer has dropped by three years. It’s very good news for golf,” the PGAA’s Rousselle says with positivity. “Before crazy season kicked-in, late 2018, the game was flat. It seemed one new golfer was introduced just as one was leaving the sport.”
He cites the National Golf Course Owners Association’s (NGCOA) Economic Impact of Golf in Canada “We Are Golf” study tracking that, prior to the pandemic the provincial average of rounds played per course was 25,038. The NGCOA numbers show that, last year, Alberta’s average was 30,060 rounds per course, more than 25 per cent higher than the five-year average from 2016-2020.”
The ultimate indicator of the pandemic’s impact on Edmonton golf were the rounds played on the fairways and greens from Jagare Ridge, Dragons Head and Raven Crest, to the City’s three 18-hole golf courses and a driving range.
“Our public courses have been extremely busy!” says the upbeat Angie Blades, Recreation Officer with the City of Edmonton. “Last year, we saw so many new golfers out on the course and more families playing together. It has really touched on our motto: golf is for everyone!
“All of our courses – Riverside, Rundle and Victoria – have seen about a 15 per cent increase in rounds played since 2019. Victoria has been busier than ever, with over 40,000 rounds being played there in 2021. We have been lucky to have some great weather, fantastic course conditions and a team that is supportive of making golf accessible to all.”
Tyler Rumpel, PGA of Canada Head Professional at Edmonton’s popular Jagare Ridge Golf Club, points to spring 2020 when lockdowns were in place, travel was not recommended, group activities were banned and the golf season was delayed. He enthusiastically adds that, “Once we were allowed to open, the game flourished. New golfers took up the game, junior golf is booming and the game is fun again.”
Rousselle underscores that golf is big business in Alberta. There are a total of 308 courses. “Annually, the golf industry proudly generates $2.8 billion to the Alberta economy, employing over 34,000 people. We have been optimistic that golf can be part of the solution moving forward and be good for physical health, mental health, and the economy.
“Year-to-date, revenues are showing an increase over 2020, which exceeds the growth in rounds. The likely contributors are increased ancillary product sales over last year and improved average rates due to the maximization of tee sheets,” he says. “Our love of the game or the game has not changed. Some of the new challenges due to the demand will be reflected by busy tee sheets. Golf course demand is high and the respect of COVID rules to protect each guest at the course will be key.”
According to NGCOA trends and numbers, Alberta is above average when it comes to the growing populairty of golf. “The 2021 data show an unprecedented increase in the popularity of rounds played nationally,” notes Rousselle. “There is a 9.1 per cent national increase from what was a record-breaking 2020. Alberta recorded an 11 per cent increase in rounds played, while Quebec was the highest increase at 22.9 percent.”
While Edmonton golfers anxiously ready fore the season, these are the busiest and most demanding workdays and schedules for the hard-working crews that get Edmonton’s golf courses ready.
“It’s one of the busiest times for our staff,” Blades says. “They’re going full tilt removing tarps and poles, cleaning up debris, putting out all the fun course accessories such as ropes, stakes, bunker rakes and ball washers. Depending on how the winter has been, this dictates the level of overseeding and other course maintenance practices that need to be done. We plan for an April 15 opening but we always strive to open even earlier, if the weather cooperates.”
The Jagare Ridge crews are ready! “All our staff have been in the business for years, so we have a pretty good handle on the transition from winter to summer,” Rumpel says. “One of the trickiest part is a little out of our control, which is the weather. This winter has been a year of extremes, from very cold with snow to warm and rain. This could wreak havoc on course conditions in the spring. We do many preventative things in the fall and winter to ensure we have great conditions in the spring to keep our golfers happy.”
Some things never change. It won’t be long until Edmonton golfers get back to good-natured grumbling about sweltering heat and crammed tee sheets. And they will rave about the #9 hole on Riverside and the spectacular views of downtown, perfect for a sunset round of Edmonton golf. Or the #13 hole on Victoria, even though it’s a challenging uphill battle to the top of the green and putting on top of the world, overlooking Edmonton’s iconic river valley. And the Jagare Ridge signature hole, “…like the popular #15, with the beautiful waterfall in front of an island green, recognized as one of the prettiest and most difficult holes in the province,” Rumpel grins with pride. “We like to think that we have a ‘mountain’ golf course in the city. Golfers enjoy the cart rides between the valley holes (#3-14, 18) and enjoy the strategy and elevation changes they provide.”
Despite the predictable and unpredictable speedbumps of the golf season, Rousselle is upbeat and optimistic. “The game and our love of the game has not changed. Some of the new challenges due to the demand will be reflected by busy tee sheets, but golf course demand is high and the respect of health rules to protect each guest at the course will be key. The biggest wild card facing our industry in the near future will be the progression of COVID and any variants.
“We’re optimistic that the summers ahead will see a similar increase in introducing more golfers to the game and more will enjoy and play the game they love.”