Quebec golf courses saw big increase in players, yet profitability remained elusive in 2020

Golf courses were allowed to open this summer, despite COVID-19, and being one of the few activities permitted, they saw many new players take up the sport. But busy courses don't necessarily equal big profits.

More rounds were played but clubs were hurt by inability to rent out venues for large events

Golf clubs struggled to remain profitable despite a large increase of players on the course in 2020. (Dave St. Amant/CBC)

As one might expect from a pandemic that prevented many Quebecers from going into the office, the province's golf courses were full this year. But busy courses don't necessarily equal big profits.

Preliminary reports suggest the number of rounds played was up by at least 20 per cent this season, topping eight million across the province.

That's an increase of approximately 800,000 rounds compared to last year, across the province's more than 350 courses.

"Considering the pandemic, we were a solution for the mental health of all Quebecers, so a lot of people who had played just a few times or who had never played, came to the golf course this summer," said Dominic Racine, the executive director of the Quebec PGA.

The increase came as a pleasant surprise for golf course managers, especially after all the uncertainty this spring.

Golf was one of the few sports which naturally conformed to social distancing regulations. While some minor changes did need to be made, overall, players say they found playing the sport to be relatively normal.

Aside from one outbreak reported at Mount Bruno Country club, one of the most exclusive courses in the country, there weren't any other known incidents of transmission linked to golf clubs.

"Everyone abided by the restrictions and were just happy to get out and play," said Gary Lagden, the general manager of Le Blainvillier Golf Club.

"You look at all the other sports that weren't able to practice their sport so you had to take advantage and not take it for granted."

Lack of events and tournaments made profitability difficult

The increased interest helped the bottom line for many courses this year, but Racine says it was still a struggle to stay in the black.

"Courses were full all summer and that's great news," Racine said.

"Financially, however, it's a whole other situation, depending on the course's structure. If they depended on events and the restaurant and bar, financially it was a tough year for a lot of courses."

Golf clubs often rely on revenue from their clubhouse venues and restaurants to subsidize the cost of running the course.

Gary Lagden, the general manager of the Blainvillier Golf Club says he's proud of how the golf community responded and adjusted to playing during a pandemic this season. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

The venues are normally rented out for weddings, private tournaments and corporate events, but this year most events were cancelled, and those that weren't were dramatically scaled back.

"We did what we had to do and were able to get through it," Lagden said. "But I think we're going to need our events. The members need the events as much as the club needs the events."

Restrictions could carry into 2021 golf season

While golf courses relied on additional green fees and some government support to survive the 2020 season, Racine says adaptation will be the key to getting through 2021.

He thinks course managers should prepare to operate under similar health and safety restrictions as they did this season when they reopen next spring.

"A lot of them innovated this year because of necessity and, moving forward, they're going to change their strategy with events and shot-gun (tournaments) and restaurant and bar," Racine said. "So, it was a good kick start for a lot of courses to kind of learn a new way to do things."

The challenge in 2021 will also be to retain all the new customers the sport attracted this summer, many of whom were between the ages of 20 and 35, a key demographic according to those in the golf industry.


Douglas Gelevan is a national award-winning journalist who has been a member of the CBC team since 2010. In addition to his role as host of CBC Montreal Weekend News, Doug also covers community sports and sports news.

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