Golf courses were taken by storm in 2020, courtesy of COVID-19, which hasn’t had all negative effects. The industry now hopes to turn this opportunity into a sustainable recovery.
Many club owners hope that the health crisis will breathe new life into an industry that has seen its share of difficulties in recent years.
More than 50 9- or 18-hole courses have disappeared in Quebec since 2006, according to a compilation made by The newspaper, which represents about 12% of the supply. During the same period, only a handful of new clubs have emerged. The supply had simply become too big for the demand, according to many observers and a “natural cleaning” took place.
The profitability problems of dozens of clubs, victims of a significant drop in their clientele, have often made the headlines in the last decade. Many have resigned themselves to selling their golf course or part of their golf course to real estate developers in order to pay off debts or diversify their income.
However, 2020 has been an exceptional year for greens according to all industry players we consulted. It had the effect of a balm and suggests better days even if all is not rosy.
More than 20% increase in games played
“It’s been a dream season,” says Martin Ducharme of Golf Château-Bromont. Me, I lived the 1980s and 1990s, they were the biggest years of the golf industry and we came back there. This year, we had no departures available. We were constantly saying “no” to people on the phone. The majority of clubs were full, day after day, ”says the man who also chairs the Association des clubs de golf du Québec (ACGQ).
Mother Nature also contributed to the summer and fall success. “We are heading towards an increase of 21% or 22% of rounds of golf played in Quebec,” according to Mr. Ducharme. An official report will be released shortly.
However, the success of traffic on the greens does not always rhyme with a surplus of greenbacks for many golf courses which have been deprived of large-scale tournaments, corporate events and weddings in addition to seeing their bar revenue plunge. and restaurants.
Losses despite everything for many
“It really caused a huge decrease,” said Nadia Di Menna, of Le Versant golf course in Terrebonne. She is far from reassured for the year 2021, due to the unforeseeable impacts of COVID-19 and is concerned for the members of the Quebec chapter of the National Association of Golf Course Owners of Canada, that she represented.
“We don’t know what will happen next year. Yes, we had a good traffic this year with former golfers who have started again, new golfers, a lot of families, golf was very trendy … On the other hand, everything that is corporate and events was not at the appointment and that is very worrying. “
For example, despite a season “beyond his expectations”, Mario Bouchard, at the Royal Quebec in Boischatel, estimates that the club’s losses will amount to more than $ 1 million in 2020.
“Considering that we are a member club, this is not necessarily the best financial year. But with the craze in 2020, it gives us hope that golf will recover in the coming years. ”
“The families have come back, which we don’t saw more for a few years. It was the best of the last five years for us and in September and October, it was a record. “
– Jacques Bélanger, General Manager of the Beauport Golf Club
THE SUCCESSION FINALLY AT THE MEETING
Players of all ages have taken to golf courses this year and it was not uncommon to see three generations represented in the same foursome.
The next generation, courted for years, finally seems more and more attracted to golf. The golf initiation programs in schools are also starting to bear fruit, says François Roy, from the Golf Québec sports federation.
“We have a lot of young people in many clubs who have bought books of 15, 20, 25 rounds of golf and who have regained a taste for golf. It’s really beneficial for us. We have made efforts in recent years to reach this clientele and COVID will have given us a little help. ”
A BOLD PAYING BET
The new owners of Les Boisés de Joly golf course in Lotbinière bought the club last February, a few weeks before Quebec was put on hiatus due to the health crisis. Hard to find worse like timing to revive a bankrupt club.
“There were a lot of people who thought we wouldn’t open and in the end people were loyal and they came back. COVID has given us a hand, ”welcomes the club’s general manager, Daniel Lafrance.
Long before COVID, the renowned club La Tempête à Lévis, which is running at full speed, also took a daring bet, by announcing investments for a second 18-hole course.
LESS STRICT RULES
Everyone says it: golf is “democratizing” and it is more and more accessible to Mr. and Mrs. Everyone.
The dress code is more permissive in many clubs and other rules are more flexible, which also favors recruiting. “Before that, it was very posh with the clean pants and the polo shirt, but we notice that that changes a bit. There are some who arrive with cargo pants, crew neck sweaters. We have to adapt to the 2000s, ”says Daniel Lafrance of the Les Boisés de Joly club.
This summer, with COVID-19, new rules have also improved the pace of the game, according to our former colleague Martial Lapointe, who has his own website specializing in golf. “The health rules made it attractive to golfers. Before, it was long around the green. Now we don’t touch the flags any more. All summer, we also played without rakes in the sand traps and it was a charm. ”
The golf industry in Quebec
- Near 1.1 million golfers
- More than 7 million games per year
- Contribution from $ 2.5 billion to GDP (gross domestic product)
- About 360 golf clubs
- 315 public clubs and 44 privately with member shareholders (according to a report produced in 2017)
* Sources: Golf Québec, Golf Canada, PGA
One club did not survive the uncertainty
The uncertainty linked to the health crisis in the spring got the better of at least one golf club in the province, the Beaurivage club on the South Shore of Quebec, which unfortunately could not take advantage of the summer windfall. .
In debt up to their necks before the start of the season, the co-owners of the nine-hole course in Saint-Étienne-de-Lauzon had to resign themselves to shutting down before the government gave the green light to the reopening of the grounds on May 20.
“You have to put yourself in the context. We closed before Public Health gave permission to open. At that time, we didn’t even know if we would have the right to open. And the only years where we had managed to make a small profit, since 2005, were those where we opened before the end of April because that extended our season, ”explains Bernard Blouin.
When Quebec finally authorized the golf clubs to launch their season, a few days after the announcement of their final closure, it was too little too late to reverse, believes the one who made this heartbreaking decision, but who does not have no regrets, under the circumstances.
An “abyssal” debt
“The golf club owed an abysmal debt to my father and then the estate because my father passed away. We had not yet started our opening works and that put us on June 15 for the opening, so it was impossible to make the season profitable. We didn’t even hesitate for a fraction of a second. It wasn’t worth it. “
Bernard Blouin has just accepted an offer to buy, at a loss, for his golf club. “The new owners have not yet decided whether they are going to operate on him or whether they will change his vocation,” he explains. He could not confirm their identity to us since the transaction has not yet been notarized.
Elsewhere in Quebec, the 18-hole Le Géant de Mont-Tremblant course has been closed exceptionally for the 2020 season, so that managers can “focus” their operations on Le Diable golf course.
Other sites, threatened with closure in the spring, have finally reopened their facilities in the Laurentians, despite a shortened season. This is the case with the Val-des-Lacs club – bought by the owner of Quatre-Domaines – and the L’Estérel club.