Ryan Johnson started playing golf less than a year ago. Already, he prefers hitting the range in his free time.
For his 19th birthday last month, his parents bought him new golf clubs. And his social media feeds are filled with golf content.
“I’ve recognized and noticed a lot more people coming out to golf,” said Johnson, of Jackson Township. “I know a bunch of my friends have been asking to golf and stuff like that a lot more often than we would have in the past.”
Johnson and his friends are among the many people who started playing the sport in recent years, a movement that is evident at golf courses across Stark County where parking lots are full, tee times are booked and business is booming.
Carrie Lowry, PGA director of golf and general manager at the Legends of Massillon Golf Course, estimated business at her course has risen 30% since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S in spring 2020. Last year, she said, about 48,000 rounds of golf were played at the Legends, which amounts to nearly 300 golfers per day.
Across the U.S. in 2021, 37.5 million people above the age of 6 participated in on-course and off-course golf activities, according to data from the National Golf Foundation. More than 3.2 million people played golf for the first time last year, breaking the previous record, set in 2000, by 800,000 people.
People flocked to golf courses because playing the sport was a way to relieve stress, Lowry said, and it allowed people to be outdoors, away from health restrictions imposed on indoor areas. That ushered in a new era for the sport in which people not traditionally associated with it — like teenagers and women — played a major role in growing the game.
More young people, women enjoying golf
“There’s a tremendous amount of growth in the younger age groups,” said Andy Lyons, owner of Lyons Den Golf Course near Canal Fulton. “Several years back it was just the opposite. All the growth was in and forecasted to be in the senior (age group), and now we’re seeing a dramatic shift from that.”
Lyons said places like Topgolf and 1899 Indoor Golf — which both utilize elements of traditional golf in competitive-style games — have incentivized people to try their hands on real golf courses.
More:The Brew Kettle, Cleveland-area craft brewery, to join Hall of Fame Village
More:Hitting the (simulated) links at 1899 Indoor Golf
Sue Snode, business manager at Tannenhauf Golf Club in Alliance, agreed, saying more people in their 20s and 30s are coming to the golf course than ever before. Tannenhauf offers a number of junior programs and golf clinics for beginners, she added, which has increased the amount of young players.
At Sable Creek Golf Course near Hartville, women have been playing much more, too, said Director of Golf Ray Headley. He attributed the increase to people being allowed to work from home, which gives them a lot more time to try new things, especially during the summer months.
Bringing home the bacon
As the amount of people playing golf increases, so does the amount of money Stark golf courses are making this year. Diane Simms, manager of Edgewater Golf Club in Minerva, said there’s been a sizable increase in sales at her course this year.
She pointed to Edgewater’s rates and a steady stream of weekday and weekend golfers as reason for the course’s financial prosperity. With recent favorable weather, she said, people are just trying to find a way to get outside.
Doug Sweitzer, superintendent at Spring Valley Golf Course in East Sparta, said his course has experienced a large increase in sales between 2019 and 2021. This year, however, the course is slightly down from its 2021 trend, but he attributed that to rainy and cold weather earlier in the year.
Sweitzer added that the closures of local golf courses, like Skyland Pines and Tam O’Shanter, have have also driven up business at Spring Valley.
“A lot of people have come in and said that the course they used to play at was Skyland or Tammy, and they didn’t realize that our course was down here until COVID hit,” he said. “With those courses closing, they found us and they’ve been coming around ever since.”
Contact Ryan via email at email@example.com, on Twitter at @ryanmaxin or by phone at 330-580-8412.