Golf continues to ride wave of pandemic-induced interest in Lake County
A pandemic-fueled increase in golf at Lake County Forest Preserve courses continued this season.
Revenues from golf course operations surpassed $5 million for a second consecutive season, a surprising and unexpected milestone.
"Prior to this COVID golf wave we're still riding, those numbers seemed almost unattainable," said Alex Eichman, the district's chief of golf operations.
Golf exploded in 2020 as an attractive outdoor activity for a pandemic-weary public, with the best golf industry performance in memory.
That interest held last year, and there was no drop this season at the district's three courses, which include 36 holes at Countryside Golf Club in Mundelein. The other courses are Brae Loch in Grayslake and ThunderHawk in Beach Park.
Golf operations, which are meant to pay for themselves, posted a $1.2 million profit in 2020 and 2021, with a similar number expected this year despite a slow start because of wet and cold weather.
"Six or seven weeks into the season, we were down significantly," Eichman said. That trend quickly reversed, with favorable weather and June, July and August.
According to Eichman, golfers who previously may have played once a week increased to two or three times a week, and those who may have gone once a month may have made it a weekly routine.
"Everybody increased their number of rounds of golf," he said.
That was true across the area, according to Vince Juarez, vice president of operations for KemperSports, which manages about 130 facilities across the country, including the Vernon Hills municipal course.
"While a wet and cold spring caused rounds to be down earlier in the year, strong summer demand and play helped us get closer to the record-setting pace of 2021, where there were more rounds played across the U.S. than any other year in history," he said.
Younger players who picked up the game during the pandemic are driving a lot of the interest, according to Juarez.
At the forest preserves, the PGA Junior League is selling out faster than ever before. In 2022, four teams of 12 players sold out in 47 minutes, Eichman said, compared to seven days the previous season.
Juarez said there also has been increased play from women and beginners -- groups that will continue to be a major focus of player development initiatives.
Eichman said the returns will be used for projects such as replacing the original 1999 patio at ThunderHawk and the eventual conversion of all 146 carts at Countryside to battery power.
"We've had three good years in a row. We're not just going to sit on that," he said. "We have plans we've been putting off."
Eichman said he's approaching 2023 with the same mindset as in the past few seasons.
"I know the excitement is not going to go away," he said. "People are still wanting and needing to golf."