Golf Resurgence Continues: Wisconsin outpaces other states in midsummer rounds played

A resurgence in golf popularity continues nationwide this year, and especially in Wisconsin, according to data in a recent National Golf Foundation (NGF) report.

Rounds played in July 2021 were actually down 3.9% nationwide from the “furious pace” of July 2020, but they’re way up from 2019 levels, NGF reported. In July 2020, NGF recorded a social-distancing-fueled golf boom. Longtime golfers, those returning to the game and beginners flocked to courses because outdoor activities such as golf (and fishing) filled a niche for people looking for something to do while observing COVID-19-prevention protocols.

Despite the major increase in rounds played nationwide from July 2019 to July 2020 – an increase other Midwest states could not match this summer – Wisconsin courses overall saw a 7% increase in rounds played this July compared to last July.

So how are Door County golf courses faring?

Idlewild pro Brandon Hansen said the course has had a busy year and has nearly matched last summer. He said it’s been a good year despite some extremely heavy rains in southern Door County that caused some flooding that forced him to close the course on six occasions.

Maxwelton Braes owner Jim Bresnahan said the course south of Baileys Harbor has been busy all summer.

“I can confirm that we have seen an increase over 2020 levels,” he said.

At Cherry Hills, owner Jon Martell has made great strides in refurbishing the course and lodge durig the past few years, and his course benefited greatly from timely rains this year.

“This July, our rounds at Cherry Hills were even with the rounds from July 2020,” Martell said in an email. “This still represents an increase of about 20% from 2019 numbers. There are several factors in play, I’m sure. One is likely the reopening of Alpine, which was closed in 2020. Being one of our closest neighboring public courses, a lot of their golfers played at Cherry Hills throughout 2020 but likely returned to Alpine this season.”

Martell said he did a great deal of promotion and advertising in 2020 due to uncertainties about COVID-19 – that they would cause people to avoid the golf course.

“Overall, I’m very happy with the consistent play levels,” he said, and “we’ve been extremely busy in the lodge, with an influx of travelers returning this season.”

At Peninsula State Park Golf Course, business overall is better than last year, and the 18-hole course, the driving range and six-hole short course have been busy all summer long, said Jason Daubner, general manager. He said revenue has improved this year over last year because he and his staff have been allowed to open the restaurant and clubhouse, and they’ve been able to put more players together in groups.

Because Peninsula sits on state property, it must follow protocols for state of Wisconsin properties, such as following orders to keep the clubhouse closed to the public last year.

“Last year was an anomaly,” Daubner said, both in the resurgence in rounds played and the loss of restaurant and clubhouse business.

Weather and greenskeeping efforts have kept the Peninsula fairways and greens lush this year. Also, most of the storms and rains have come at night, so they did not wash out tee times. A weather-related closing did take place from dawn until 12 pm on Sept. 8, however, when an early-morning storm soaked the course, broke tree limbs and strewed debris and branches.

The scarcity of golf equipment and apparel has hurt the pro shop business at Peninsula, other courses and stores nationwide. Worldwide supply-chain issues have made it difficult to get golf clubs, and a resin shortage has hindered golf-ball manufacturing. Daubner said that almost everything that comes into the pro shop sells quickly, leaving bare spots here and there on clubhouse shelves.

Golf Mecca

It’s doubtful that anyone thought Wisconsin would become a regular destination for the world’s greatest golfers back when the Greater Milwaukee Open at Brown Deer was the main golf attraction in the state.

But fast-forward to this month, when Wisconsin will host the most prestigious men’s team event, the Ryder Cup, Sept. 21-26. The players are on their way to Kohler for their matches at Whistling Straits, which hosted the PGA Championship in 2004, 2010 and 2015. Other than Whistling Straits, only two other Wisconsin courses have hosted majors: Erin Hills in 2017 (U.S. Open) and Blue Mound Golf and Country Club (1933 PGA Championship).

Learn more about match and practice-day schedules, rules and guidelines, parking, and ticket availability for the Ryder Cup at Grandstand seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Attendees ages 17 and younger will get in free when accompanied by a ticket-holding adult on practice days, Tuesday, Sept. 21, through Thursday, Sept. 23.

Golf Channel and/or NBC will cover the Ryder Cup all day Sept. 24-26.