Meanwhile, Skinner said that Golden Horseshoe, a KemperSports-managed 45-hole resort facility in Williamsburg, Va., enjoyed double-digit, year-over-year growth in golf package visitors during the late summer and early fall.
Such resilience shouldn’t come as a surprise in the destination golf industry. While the number of overall golfers in the U.S. declined over the 15 years leading up to the pandemic, and the number of golf courses went down by 10%, according to the NGF, the global destination golf industry has expanded. From 2011 through 2019, sales by golf tour operators increased 8% to 10% annually, according to the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO).
In the U.S., destination golfing revenues were able to continue climbing because the number of avid golfers remained steady, even as the total number of players dropped, IAGTO CEO Peter Walton explained during a late 2019 interview.
Looking through the winter and spring, golf resorts, as well as tour operators and agents, expect the destination industry to be dominated by couples excursions and by buddy trips, with corporate golf trips, not surprisingly, being nearly absent.
Bookings at Florida’s Streamsong, for example, look strong from February through April, Skinner said. But small groups and drive market travelers will represent a proportionally higher share of visitors compared with previous years.
Ryan Jacobs, a travel specialist for the Amherst, N.H.-based tour operator Adventures in Golf, which is a preferred Virtuoso partner, said his company has refocused its short-term efforts away from big-ticket international markets Scotland and Ireland, which typically account for 75% of sales, and toward Sunbelt markets like Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Arizona.
Jacobs said he is cautiously optimistic about 2021. But due to the Covid-fueled golf boom, he’s bullish about the post-pandemic outlook.
“Folks were maybe not able to travel for golf in 2020, but they were certainly playing it at a local level, and that’s hopefully going to promote more travel for golf in the future,” he said.
Travel advisors, said Jacobs, have already taken notice.
He said that during the virtual Virtuoso Travel Week in August, 80% of his appointments were with agents who said they wanted to learn more about selling and booking golf due to its suitability during the pandemic.
Agents who do end up working with golf-hungry clients will likely find it easier to do so with the aid of a specialty tour operator, said Talewsky, especially if their clients are planning an international excursion. By booking golf packages with a preferred tour operator, in his case Adventures in Golf, Talewsky said he sometimes can get better access to tee times at highly sought-after courses, such as the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, which claims to have the oldest known golf course in the world among its seven courses. (Adventures in Golf maintains an office in St. Andrews.)