Utah golf growing in popularity amid COVID-19 pandemic
By Josh Carter
Leer en español: El golf en Utah crece en popularidad durante la pandemia
Golf has always been a socially distant sport. Apart from the other members of one’s playing group, it is rare to come within six feet of another person while out on the links.
As a result, local golf courses have not only been some of the few recreational facilities allowed to remain open amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but many courses have also enjoyed a significant increase in business over the last few months.
“We’re as busy as we’ve ever been,” Hobble Creek Golf Course Head Professional Craig Norman said. “Golf is one of the few things you can do during the pandemic. Our numbers are through the roof right now.”
Norman has seen people of all ages take up golf while other recreational opportunities throughout the state were shut down. He also acknowledged those who normally leave on vacations throughout the summer are instead staying put and spending their free time at the course.
Randy Dodson, Fairways Media president and owner, has also seen a variety of people take up and come back to the sport amid the pandemic.
“Established players are bringing new players and even those that once played many years ago have now returned to the sport,” Dodson said. “Social distancing in golf was an easy change for golfers already enjoying the outdoor recreation provided by the game.”
In the midst of increased traffic, local courses have implemented a variety of precautions to maintain a safe environment. Such precautions include limiting one to two people per golf cart, sanitizing carts after every use, regularly sanitizing clubhouse and restroom areas, and customized touch-free flagsticks. Local golf courses have also limited tee time reservations to being done online or over the phone.
“I think this is the new norm, at least for the foreseeable future,” Norman said. “We have always been sanitizing our carts and facilities but just not as often as we do now. We’ve had to hire more staff to keep up. I think most every golf course in the valley is in the same boat.”
Dodson has noticed that such precautions have caused golfers to play at a quicker and more efficient pace.
“Paying online means golfers are showing up for their tee times,” Dodson said. “Single cart usage, or walking, coupled with more time in between pairings has shown that golfers are playing faster. They’re playing as much as a half-hour to 45 minutes faster than before, all making for a better golf experience.”
Golf’s socially distant nature has also allowed for its professionals to return to competition before most other American sports leagues, sparking even more interest in the sport on a local and national level.
The PGA Tour returned to action June 11-14 with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. The spectator-free event, televised on CBS Sports, drew in 3.88 million viewers for the final round, making it the tournament’s most-watched round in 16 years.
Tour competitors and former BYU men’s golfers Zac Blair and Peter Kuest along with Salt Lake City native Tony Finau have caused several Utahns to tune in to the Tour’s three events thus far.
The Korn Ferry Tour has also had numerous golfers with Utah ties competing in its three events, including former Cougar golfers Daniel Summerhays, Mike Weir, Patrick Fishburn and current BYU golfer Cole Ponich. The Tour’s most recent event, the Utah Championship, featured Summerhays narrowly missing out on a first-place finish at Oakridge Country Club in his hometown, Farmington, Utah.
“Sure, the game of golf on TV was the first national sport to return to network and cable golf channels,” Dodson said. “Since we are trying to stay home more, more golfers are watching golf tournaments that are available. However, Utah golfers have a renewed interest in watching the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour on TV because of the number of players with Utah ties on the tours now.”
Norman hopes the recent surge of excitement surrounding the sport of golf in Utah continues to increase throughout the remainder of and after the current pandemic.
“The recent circumstances have created sort of a perfect storm for golf,” Norman said. “I’ve been in the golf business for 43 years and I’ve never seen it like this. People are just really excited about golf right now, and hopefully that will carry on for a long time.”