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COVID-19 wasn't so bad for the sport itself, but GlenDenning and The Wilds missed out on a lot of business in 2020 due to the pandemic
Fields and rinks throughout Atlantic Canada ceased hosting sports events at various points during the COVID-19 pandemic. But compared to other sports, golf fared pretty well.
“From what I have seen, it has 100 per cent grown,” said Jacki Northcott, general manager for The Willows and GlenDenning courses on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. “For one, we’re seeing a different demographic on the course ... It’s not necessarily that male, retired individual anymore that you see dominating the course. I feel that there’s definitely an uptick in the 20s and 30s, men and women, and that’s quite exciting to see.
“I don’t know if that’s COVID related. I would assume it is, with the flexible schedules and that sort of thing. Different people aren’t going away to work or play. They’re staying home, trying something new. Something where they’re able to socialize safely.”
With lots of wide-open space to access in an outdoor setting, golf has not been held back as much as other sports have. The Willows was the first course to open last spring in Newfoundland and Labrador when the province moved down to Alert Level 4. Golf was just about the only sport allowed to resume activity again at that level.
Optimism for 2021
As a result, courses were busy last year. Northcott and Kelly Finlay, general manager at The Wilds on Salmonier Line, are both optimistic about the upcoming golf season. The Wilds has invested in 30 new golf carts due to arrive at the end of May.
“We’ve been busy getting ready not just for the season, but welcoming guests, since last year,” said Finlay, whose site also has a hotel and resort that underwent renovations just before the pandemic started. “We were lucky last year to be able to open the golf, and while (it was) a delayed start with our hotel, we still had a great season. And we’re anticipating that the golf season is going to be even better this year.”
According to Northcott, the mild winter was kind to golf courses. She said snow serves as a great insulator, and a lack of ice buildup helped the grass. The Wilds tentatively plans to reopen April 23, while GlenDenning expects to welcome customers back in late April or the first week of May. The Willows is already open for players, with COVID protocols and some course restrictions in place.
“When the snow goes, we’re ready to go,” Northcott said.
Golf may have weathered the COVID storm, but other revenue streams have not fared so well. GlenDenning and The Wilds both take a lot of bookings for weddings, among other events. Finlay said The Wilds lost approximately 40 weddings last year because of the pandemic. She’s hoping 2021 will be a better year.
“Right now, our weddings for June onwards are holding on, because they’re hopeful for vaccinations that are going to happen,” Finlay said. “The unfortunate part is information is slow to come out. There’s no forecasting of how we’re going to be or where we’re going to be depending on what. We can’t even get that analysis from the chief medical officer of health ... We’re still hopeful. I’m trying to be optimistic that we’re all going to be vaccinated by the end of June, please God. Then, we’ll get our summer back.”
GlenDenning typically employs 75 staff at peak levels, but last year, employment peaked at around 40. Northcott envisions an improved performance this year compared to 2020, though bookings are still not where they were pre-COVID.
“People are seeing that things will change, especially after the vaccinations,” she said. “They’re sort of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Our new normal is going to become just that — a normal. We’re definitely seeing an uptick in planning tournaments and events through the year. I think people are cognizant of the dates ... As (we get to) July, August, September, you see those numbers are increasing.”
Finlay and Northcott both believe that by 2022, event bookings will return to pre-COVID levels. Northcott suggests 2022 could prove to be an even better year than most, given pent up demand for big gatherings could lead to substantial interest in booking events.
In a normal year, The Wilds employs 65 staff. Finlay believes if the business it was supposed to attract in 2020 is realized in a post-COVID 2022, its staffing complement could reach triple-digits in peak season.
“We’re confident and optimistic we’re going to come out of this,” she said.