People looking for a safe outdoor activity in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 flocked to golf courses in record numbers statewide.
What would happen, though, when restaurants and theaters opened back up, when AmFam Field, Camp Randall Stadium and Lambeau Field again welcomed large crowds, when festivals and the State Fair and Summerfest were back online? Would those activities siphon golfers off courses and at least slow the unprecedented surge in rounds played?
At Milwaukee County Parks, the answer is in. And it’s a resounding “no.”
Through Oct. 24 – and with the golf season not quite done – Milwaukee County already had broken its records for rounds played and revenue that were set in 2020. The biggest parks system in Wisconsin had taken in $9.476 million in golf revenue at its 14 courses, according to golf services manager Chet Hendrickson.
“That doesn’t include any food or beverage sold out of the golf shops or on the golf courses,” Hendrickson said. “That’s just golf revenue.”
Dretzka Park Golf Course surpassed the $1 million mark for the first time in its history, with $1.021 million in golf revenue. Last year, Dretzka took in a then-record $844,000.
Brown Deer Park had taken in $1.792 million through Oct. 24. Oakwood Park was at $1.33 million and Whitnall Park was at $1.25 million. A fifth course could join them in the “$1 million club” in the coming days: Grant Park’s revenue stood at $966,000.
Milwaukee County has never come close to having five courses surpass $1 million in revenue.
Even par-3 Warnimont, labeled an “executive course” by the county, has been packed. In 2019, pre-pandemic, Warnimont took in $212,000 in revenue. That number jumped to $350,000 in 2020 and this year it jumped again to a record $385,000. Rounds played have nearly doubled in two years, from 16,000 in 2019 to 25,404 this year.
“It’s been something to watch,” Hendrickson said. “Courses that were historically busy on certain days and times are just busy all the time now. We used to do Packers and Badgers specials, trying to get people to play on the weekends, and now the tee sheet just fills up.
“I took my team up to Lawsonia at the beginning of October. I was talking to the pro up there, Josh (Carroll), and he kind of echoed the same thing. It never ends. I had to go to Washington County (Golf Course) to drop off something and the parking lot looked a lot like Milwaukee County parking lots. Just packed. People stacked up, waiting to play.”
This past Tuesday alone, the Parks took in $25,313 in golf revenue.
“In a normal year, I would say you would expect half that this time of year,” Hendrickson said.
In Kenosha County, it’s a similar story. In 2020, the two county-owned facilities, Petrifying Springs Golf Course and Brighton Dale Links, sold a combined 110,000 rounds, which was a record. Through Monday, the two courses were at 111,000 and counting.
Petrifying Springs was up 4,000 rounds over 2020 and Brighton Dale was down 3,000, according to Dan Drier, general manager for the division of golf in Kenosha County. The latter can be attributed to a fall-off in play from Illinois. In 2020, courses in Illinois were closed for much of the year and Brighton Dale is only about 10 miles north of state line.
“This year, with the courses being open down there, rounds were down a little bit at Brighton Dale,” Drier said. “Even so, we did 110,000 rounds last year between the two places and this year we’re 1,000 over that already. Revenue is up even more because our restaurants were open all year and we were able to have outings and give lessons. Junior clinics came back. Merchandise is way up.
“Definitely the best year ever for Kenosha County golf.”
Hendrickson said he didn’t anticipate a downturn in golf in 2022.
“Honestly, I think as long as the economy stays OK, I don’t see demand changing right now,” he said. “If all of a sudden the cure for COVID was found tomorrow, I don’t think it would impact the demand for golf. At least, that’s the way it feels right now.”
Drier agreed, though he was less sure that courses would continue to set records for rounds and revenue.
“I kept saying last year we were so busy because there was nothing else to do,” he said. “This year, there are other things to do and we’re still competing. I think the amount of play will continue, but possibly not at these record numbers. It might subside some, but I think a lot of people have found value in what we’re offering and the time spent together on the golf course.
“I do think that the spike in golf is definitely going to be sustained. Whether it’s to the same levels is questionable.”