The Short Course at Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley can see up to 160 rounds of golf during a day in March, the peak season for golf courses in the valley.
But with the coronavirus health crisis sweeping the world and stop tourismgolf rounds fell below 100, according to Jesse Thompson, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.
Even still, golfers have become the sole source of income for Mountain Shadows, which has seen its occupancy rate drop to 6% and its suspended food and beverage sales.
“I can honestly tell you that the only reason Mountain Shadows is still open is because we have this golf course,” Thompson said. “It’s the only thing that keeps the doors open.”
In the United States, less than half of golf courses are open for play. But in Arizona, no less than 91% of courses, including 277, were operating as of April 8, according to the National Golf Foundation.
Arizona’s golf industry contributed $3.9 billion in sales to the state’s economy in 2014, according to a University of Arizona study.
At the Biltmore and Talking Stick resorts, golf continues even though the stations have closed.
Governor Doug Ducey received criticism from some Arizona mayors and residents last month when he designated golf courses as essential businesses, as governors of Nevada, Texas and New York ordered the closing of classes respect social distancing.
But revenue from golf games has become really essential for Mountain Shadows, says Thompson.
And Mountain Shadows, which has only been open for three years, had to temporarily lay off 92% of its staff. Of the dozen employees who still work at the property, a third of them work in golf.
“We’re just trying to keep people paid and keep the lights on,” Thompson said.
Revenues fall in price, but stabilize in April
While many golf courses in Arizona are able to stay open and support at least some of their employees, the numbers are still grim for the Phoenix-area industry.
Golf courses typically have their highest green fee rates through Easter, according to Mike Loustalot, the co-founder of Sagacity Golf, which collects performance data from 75 Phoenix golf courses.
These fares are typically afforded by winter visitors from other parts of the country and Canada. This year, tourists left once the outbreak gained momentum, he said.
Now, only local Arizona golfers remain, and group events and corporate golf outings have evaporated as business travel has come to a halt.
In March, games played dropped 23% from a year ago, with revenue per game down 32%.
“This dramatic drop in revenue has come at precisely the worst time for the golf industry in Arizona,” Loustalot said.
While revenues fell in March, the decline appeared to flatten out in the first week of March, according to Sagacity.
Some golf courses in the Valley have nevertheless decided to close temporarily.
The Sun City West retirement community announced last week that it would close all of its golf courses to protect residents and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The McCormick Ranch Golf Club in Scottsdale has also temporarily closed.
David Bataller, spokesman for the Arizona Golf Association, said decisions to close or stay open are made on a case-by-case basis.
“The message went from ‘Hey, come play golf!’ to ‘If you decide to come play golf, we’re ready for you,'” Bataller said. “But people have to do the right thing themselves.”
The Arizona Republic has reached out to several Valley golf resorts that are still in operation but were reluctant to speak, possibly due to concerns about backlash from some members of the public who disagree. with the designation of golf courses as essential businesses.
Most of those contacted by The Republic did not return a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Arcis Golf, which operates six courses in the Phoenix area, said the company will not be conducting interviews at this time.
Is golf a social distancing sport?
Garrett Glynn did not play golf for two weeks at the start of the quarantine period.
Glynn, who lives in Mesa, found himself increasingly frustrated and resentful of working from home. He decided to venture out for a round of golf at the Talking Stick Golf Club.
He said employees wiped down golf carts and made sure only people who lived together could share one.
More importantly, he said his mental health has improved significantly home once he’s gone out to play.
“It’s a way to stay sane during all that time you’re locked in your house,” Glynn said. “You can only go around the block so many times before you go crazy.”
At the Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, rounds of golf were sold out at 180 rounds on Friday, and the same number was booked for Saturday, which is typical for this time of year, according to general manager Bob McNichols.
McNichols credits the loyalty of local golfers and the nature of the game.
Golf, he says, is the perfect sport for social distancing.
“The golf routine happens to be an individual routine. You’re competing with the golf course,” he said. “It’s just fortunate that golf is designated as a sport that can still be played. It’s not a game that no one has decided is pandemic proof.”
Longbow staff are taking steps to keep their guests safe, including sanitizing carts before and after use, asking guests to carry their own golf bags and removing green flags, McNichols said.
According to Bataller, golf courses across the state are taking similar steps to eliminate contact points that players are used to.
After last month’s social distancing requirements, he said sanitation efforts could become the norm and players would become more aware of their belongings and what they touch on the course.
But even with changes, golf in Arizona will undoubtedly endure.
“For a lot of people, golf isn’t just a game,” Bataller said. “It’s a lifestyle.”
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