Golf Courses Get Past Hazard, Score More Rounds

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Golfers flocked to courses across the Mahoning Valley in 2020, taking advantage of the unusually cooperative weather in northeastern Ohio and getting a respite from the stay-at-home pandemic restrictions.

At Tippecanoe Country Club, golf course numbers were triple that of normal years, says controller Lauren Martauz. There were 539 rounds in November 2020, compared to 16 for that month in 2019, says Tippecanoe general manager Trent Squire.

During 2020, golfing rounds of nine or 18 holes, depending on the course, surged by 13.9% over 2019, according to NGF, a publication of the National Golf Foundation.

Reserve Run Golf Course and The Links at Firestone Farms also saw more play last year, with a percentage of increase in the low to mid-teens, says Michael Ferranti, general manager at both courses. Reservations were near capacity as the courses strictly followed COVID-19 protocols.

Ball washers, rakes and other common touch points on the course were eliminated in 2020. Ferranti’s courses took on the added expense of installing clear, plastic dividers on golf carts to separate players, while most courses simply limited occupancy to one per cart.

The carts are leased, he says, and the partitions raised his costs by 10%. Cleaning materials were also purchased and used coursewide.

“It was something we felt we were going overboard on, just to make sure we were safe,” Ferranti says. “It was a big expense to get that done for the carts. But it turned out well worth it.”

COVID protocols have been eased at most courses. But social distancing and mask-wearing are still enforced. The influx of golfers playing at The Lake Club brought a 30% increase in 2020, according to director of golf Don Confoey.

Retaining those numbers is the goal of not only the Poland-area country club, but other courses around the country.

Keeping new members engaged in the game and offering new programs such as junior golf and beginners programs are vital for the sport to keep thriving in 2021, Confoey adds. He mentions an app-based program that provides instruction and tracks progress for those new to the sport.

“If you can roll a putt-putt ball, you can do this new program,” Confoey says.

The PGA Junior League attracts young golfers from 8 to 15 years old to play in a team format against other clubs. That program at Tippecanoe has thrived the last six seasons, highlighting the course in the half-dozen matches hosted there.

“It’s nice camaraderie for the families,” says Michael Spiech, head PGA professional at Tippecanoe Country Club. “They get to see how we run things here.”

Banquets, private outings, weddings and other large gatherings were all but nonexistent in 2020, with numbers down about 80%, says Nicholas Dinsmore, golf operations general manager at Avalon Golf & Country Club.

The Avalon family has three other entities: Squaw Creek, Golf at Buhl Park and Avalon Field Club at New Castle. Events dropped from 50 to just a few with box lunches or no food service at all.

“Most events are going to try to do whatever they did before 2020. But it’s still just a week-to-week or month-to-month monitor of what we’re allowed to do,” says Dinsmore about Avalon’s Ohio and Pennsylvania locations.

The Avalon family has increased, he adds. After an initial membership decline of a few hundred at its four locations, membership now stands at more than 5,100, putting the entity above pre-COVID numbers, according to Dinsmore.

Membership at Trumbull Country Club spiked during 2020, which added employees to serve the 40 new members last season, says TCC head golf professional Jason Hastings. Golf rounds increased to 14,000 from 9,000 from 2019 to 2020.

Outings are increasing as well so far this year. “I haven’t seen any slowdown,” Hastings says.

Meanwhile, there’s a new look at The Links at Firestone Farms. Its banquet bookings were ravaged by the COVID-19 restrictions but weddings were held with smaller, socially-distanced crowds, Ferranti says.

The space is being converted into a restaurant, which should be open some time in May. The restaurant at Reserve Run will use 65% of its indoor seating capacity including its spacious outdoor patio.

At Tippecanoe Country Club, a new golf superintendent was hired, says GM Squire. Ten new pieces of equipment were added, including fairway, rough and greens mowers, along with sprayers to keep the turf in pristine condition, he says.

Drainage and tree removal projects were also completed. And $400,000 was spent to improve the furniture, fixtures and equipment in the clubhouse area, including carpet, flooring, ceiling, lights, paint, furniture, chandeliers and window treatments.

The next phase of the Tippecanoe project includes expanding the club’s exterior dining area and creating a cigar area, according to Squire.

In the future, the baby pool will be removed for a splash pad, improvements will be made to the poolhouse and its kitchen, and the tennis courts will be resurfaced.

Pictured: Michael Ferranti manages Reserve Run and The Links at Firestone Farms.