MADISON, Wis. — For golf courses and people involved in the golf industry, 2020 was a year of highs and lows.

“It was a roller coaster to say the least,” said Joe Stadler, Executive Director of Wisconsin Professional Golfers Association.

When the pandemic hit in March, it shut down golf courses in through much of the nicest spring for weather Wisconsin had seen in a few years. Reopening was tricky too, with coronavirus regulations and rules changing regularly for golf courses.

Stadler said he knew a lot of courses in mid-may that were down 80% to 90% in revenues and rounds. By the end of the season most courses were up though. Stadler said he's heard courses were up on rounds and revenue anywhere from 12% to 60%.

“When you consider how far they were down to how far they were up, a remarkable turnaround,” Stadler said.

Courses are pleased with the turnaround too, particularly as they spent the year navigating best practices during the pandemic.

“It was a little bit of a fire drill,” said Michael Crowley, PGA Head Professional at Morningstar Golfers Club in Waukesha. “But our members and the general public were great as far as working with us.” 

Crowley said Morningstar increased rounds by 38% in 2020 over 2019. People were constantly golfing, sometimes calling for a tee time in the morning and happily settling for one much later in the afternoon.

“People, all they wanted to do was come out and play golf,” Crowley said.

An analysis from Golf Datatech shows that nationwide golf rounds are up 10% to 12% in 2020. In Wisconsin that number is higher. The Wisconsin PGA says that is closer to 20% in the state. In Milwaukee County alone it's about 35%. 

Following the increase in rounds played, golf equipment sales rose as well. Both at retailers and shops at golf courses, people were buying gloves, tees, clubs and of course balls. Golf Datatech reported Golf Equipment sales surpassed $1 billion in the third quarter of 2020 — a record three months.

“When rounds are up as much as they are, people lose golf balls, it's just a fact of life,” Stadler said. “They go through gloves and tees and just the staple items were through the roof, and in some cases it was hard to get.”

A lot of the bump in golf activity can be attributed to people looking for activities to do outdoors this year because of coronavirus. Stadler said they saw a large increase in families golfing together, people starting off in the sport or just picking it back up after a year or two off, and from kids turning to golf after other team sports were cancelled or reduced.

“We saw quite frankly a pretty big explosion of kids participating in our junior events,” Stadler said.

Golf courses hope the jump in interest results in people picking up the sport long-term and sticking around for years.

“I absolutely think we can keep this momentum going,” Crowley said. “We have a lot of families that started playing a lot more golf.”

It wasn't a perfect year for golf courses. Many lost revenues on large events like charity tournaments or weddings being cancelled. Food sales were also way down at most golf courses.

“There were still some facilities that wouldn't call 2020 a really good year,” Stadler said.

On the whole, 2020 bucked a trend of reduced or mostly level rates of golf rounds in the U.S. Golfers hope that they can carry some of that momentum into 2021.

“It's hard to imagine that golf will stay at the level it was at because there's going to be all those other options hopefully back open for people's time,” Stadler said. “But we feel that we can do a good job of at least keeping a portion of that.”