MONTEREY — Scheduling a tee time in one of the most popular destinations in the world for golf has always been a challenge on the Monterey Peninsula.
While the nearly year-long pandemic has crippled the vacation industry, golf has seen its numbers soar with locals grabbing time slots and spending hours on the links.
It’s one of the few sports where social distancing isn’t an issue. And it’s outside where the threat of the virus is not as severe when taking proper protocols.
“The golf industry across the nation has been up significantly post COVID-19 closures,” Pacific Grove Municipal Golf Course General Manager Matt Pennington said.
Since reopening after the pandemic shut down courses and golf shops for 47 days back in mid-March, the demand to play a round of golf could require a two-week advance reservation, according to Pennington, who is also the general manager at Laguna Seca golf course.
“The booking window has greatly increased,” Pennington said. “We are booking people 10 to 14 days in advance for what I call preferred tee times. We have less supply with day hours in the winter.”
The usage of courses throughout the county is on the upswing. The golf course at Corral de Tierra, which is a member-based club, has seen its numbers increase with member usage.
“We have also seen a tremendous interest in membership,” said Heather Ferreira, the director of sales and marketing. “Who would have thought we would have a resurgence during a pandemic?”
What Ferreira has noticed since the summer is more couples and families playing rounds of golf, turning it into a recreational part of their day.
“We’re seeing more little ones coming out and golfing,” Ferreira said. “Whether it’s nine holes, driving ranges or the short game, it’s fantastic to see. I haven’t seen anything like this since the early Tiger Woods days.”
Because a lot of college athletes are home during the pandemic, Ferreira has also seen a lot of familiar faces coming back out as well and getting their work in since reopening in May.
Safety is an obvious factor in the popularity of the game. Players can social distance in golf, yet get out and exercise and mingle with friends — the only significant difference is using separate golf carts for non- families.
“We worked really hard to get it reopened,” Ferreira said. “We shared as much information as we could with county health officials to ensure that golf was a safe sport to play.”
It’s not just the golf courses in the county that are seeing their profits increase. With more people taking up the game, the demand for equipment has risen as well.
“All our numbers suggest golf is booming,” said Matt Mathias of The Golf Mart in Seaside. “Our store has done a lot more revenue than in previous years just in the last six months.”
Mathias has seen a demand increase for bags, clubs and balls. In fact, he’s had trouble keeping some of his stuff in stock, in part because the sport has seen its number rise across the nation.
“People are coming in and buying more stuff than usual,” Mathias said. “Supply and demand is an issue. Companies are struggling to keep up. We’re seeing a lot of kids purchasing equipment.”
Golf apparel has also been popular for some owners of golf shops during the pandemic. In fact, sales have exceeded expectations at Land and Sea Golf Shop in Carmel.
“We were able to establish our business online when we were forced to close in March,” said Charyse Klem, who co-owns the business with her husband. “When we reopened in June, we had a great month. We haven’t been negatively affected.”
While clothing is primarily the store’s focus, there has been a big increase in sales for golf shoes, hats and even gloves.
“Shoes have been a big sell for us,” Klem said. “That and hats. We have a wide range of apparel. Our stuff doesn’t look too old or too young. We’re pleased that people are supporting locals.”
Store policies, however, have slowed sales for some golf shops. As a precaution, Pennington is asking individuals not to try on clothing. And there is a no return policy during the pandemic.
“We’re taking on a stricter approach with our policies in that regard,” Pennington said. “So we haven’t seen as big of an uptick as we have with people just wanting to get out on the course and play.”
The popularity of the sport has never waned on the Peninsula. However, the clientele is what Pennington has noticed that is different during the pandemic.
“There is definitely a wilder range of golfers,” Pennington said. “From beginners to seniors picking the game back up, to more ladies on the course. It’s a more diverse group of golfers.”
Contributed by local news sources