Ryan Johnson started playing golf less than a year ago. He now prefers to hit the range in his spare time.
For his 19th birthday last month, his parents bought him new golf clubs. And his social media feeds are full of golf content.
“I recognized and noticed a lot more people going golfing,” said Johnson, of Jackson Township. “I know a bunch of my friends have been asking about golf and stuff a lot more than we would have in the past.”
Johnson and his friends are among the many people who have taken up the sport in recent years, a movement that is evident at Stark County golf courses, where parking lots are full, tee times are booked and business is booming.
Carrie Lowery, PGA director of golf and general manager of the Legends of Massillon Golf Course, estimated that business at her course has grown 30 percent since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in the spring of 2020. Last year, she said, about 48,000 rounds of golf were played on Legends, which equates to nearly 300 golfers per day.
In the U.S. in 2021, 37.5 million people over the age of 6 participated in golf activities on and off the course, 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 sports was a way to relieve stress, Lowry said, and allowed people to be outdoors, away from the health restrictions imposed indoors. This ushered in a new era for the sport, in which people not traditionally associated with it – such as teenagers and women – played a major role in the development of the game.
More young people, women enjoying golf
“There’s been tremendous growth in the younger age groups,” said Andy Lyons, owner of Lyons Den Golf Course near Canal Fulton. “A few years ago it was the exact opposite. All the growth was and was projected to be in the senior (age group), and now we’re seeing a dramatic shift away from that.”
Lyons said places like Topgolf and 1899 Indoor Golf — both of which use elements of traditional golf in competition-style games — have spurred people to try their hand at real golf courses.
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Sue Snowd, business manager at Tannenhauf Golf Club in Alliance, agreed, saying more people in their 20s and 30s are hitting the golf course than ever before. Tannenhauf offers a number of junior programs and golf clinics for beginners, she added, which has increased the number of young players.
At Sable Creek Golf Course near Hartville, women also play a lot more, said director of golf Ray Hadley. He credited the increase to people being allowed to work from home, giving them much more time to try new things, especially in the summer months.
Bring home the bacon
As the number of people playing golf grows, so does the amount of money Stark golf courses make this year. Diane Sims, manager of Edgewater Golf Club in Minerva, said there has been a significant increase in sales at her course this year.
She cited Edgewater’s rates and a steady stream of weekday and weekend golfers as reasons for the course’s financial prosperity. With the recent favorable weather, she said, people are just trying to find a way to get outside.
Doug Switzer, superintendent of Spring Valley Golf Course in East Sparta, said his course saw a big increase in sales between 2019 and 2021. This year, however, the course is slightly below its 2021 trend, but he attributed this to the rainy and cold weather earlier in the year.
Sweitzer added that the closing of local golf courses, such as Skyland Pines and Tam O’Shanter, has also boosted business in Spring Valley.
“A lot of people have come in and said the course they played at was Skyland or Tammy, and they didn’t realize our course was here until COVID hit,” he said. “After those courses closed, they found us and have been coming around ever since.”
Contact Ryan by email at [email protected], on Twitter at @ryanmaxin or by phone at 330-580-8412.