When thousands of U.S. courses closed this spring in the early stages of the pandemic, it looked like the golf industry was in for a world of hurt. During this uncertain time, I thought this would be the death blow that sent dozens, if not a hundred or more, struggling courses into permanent closure.
Turns out, COVID-19 probably saved more courses than it decimated in 2020. Golf became the socially distanced sport of choice for millions of Americans looking to get outside and stay active. Once-empty tee sheets and driving ranges became packed. Booking a round turned into a competitive sport. Golf Datatech reported last month that rounds were up 10.8% this year compared to 2019 through October. The pandemic fueled the most unexpected golf boom.
Unfortunately, not all golf facilities enjoyed overwhelming success. Golf resorts struggled with unoccupied accommodations. Wedding and outing business tanked. Food and beverage operations went south with clubhouses closed and indoor dining suspended.
Despite these obstacles, it made no sense to close a course in 2020. Business was too brisk to just turn out the lights. Although I don't have any official data yet, I'd guess that fewer courses closed this year than any in the past decade, maybe longer.
Sadly, it's inevitable that some facilities succumb to market forces, either from poor management, crumbling infrastructure, too much competition or the simple fact that the land is too valuable to remain a golf course in many places.
A year-end tradition at Golf Advisor, we bid adieu to the 10 best courses to close in 2020. Some could still attempt a comeback under new owners, but for the majority, the last tee time came and went.
Ko'olau Golf Club, Oahu, Hawaii
I lost a personal-record 8 balls when I played Ko'Olau in 2013. I don't understand how anyone would enjoy an experience like that, but sadistic golfers always love a challenge. Golf Digest put the course in its top 100 public courses list a while back because of its dramatic jungle setting near the mountains. However, building and maintaining a course in one of the world's wettest climates just doesn't make sense. Neither does a church owning a golf course. Hawaii's struggling tourism industry ultimately did in Ko'Olau, which closed Sept. 30. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu "has retained Pono Pacific Land Management LLC to help transition the land for another use."
"While we are disappointed that the golf course will be shutting down, we are looking forward to see what God has in store for the property next," Senior Pastor Dan Chun said in a statement.
What course near you closed in 2020 that you'll miss? Let us know in the comments below.The trend of course closures will continue for the foreseeable future.It's becoming a morbid annual holiday tradition of mine every December.Jason Scott Deegan looks at 12 of the top U.S. courses to close in 2017.Lost were former Top 100 facilities and a Gil Hanse design.
Rancho San Marcos, Santa Barbara, California
How and why billionaire owner Ty Warner closed Rancho San Marcos "indefinitely" remains a mystery. Meanwhile, its sister course, Sandpiper, right on the Pacific Ocean, eventually reopened in August, and word is Tom Doak is prepping for a complete redesign. Shot for shot, Rancho was the better course, but its inland location made it prone to burnt fairways and wildfires during the ongoing California drought. Without it, Santa Barbara drops out of the running among California's best golf destinations. Warner has put the land up for sale, so it could make a comeback with a new owner if that person can figure out the water issue. Its closing definitely dealt a blow to the local golf community. One friend says his group now drives 30 miles each way to play La Purisima in Lompoc. "The drive stinks but we are used to it now," he added.
Hanover Country Club, Hanover, New Hampshire
There are so many reasons to lament the closure of Hanover Country Club in July. Dartmouth College is not only closing a historic course (dating to 1899) but cutting its two varsity golf teams as well. There is a proposal being considered to reopen holes 7-15 next year and operate it as a nine-hole track, according to the Valley News, but talks are preliminary.
Eaglemont Golf Club, Mount Vernon, Washington
Eaglemont - a course where I have a personal history - closed at the end of March and is now for sale. It's an absolutely stunning site, and the clubhouse is relatively new (2010), so there is potential here. The problem is the surrounding community is not big into golf (weather, finances and culture all play a part). Plus, the course is just so hard. A partial redesign would be in order to make it viable long-term.
East course at Inverrary Country Club, Lauderhill, Florida
Southeast Florida has been hit hard with closures this year, despite limited lock-down time. The legendary East Course was the signature course to go down, where 15 PGA Tour and LPGA Tour tournaments were once played, including the Honda, the Jackie Gleason-Inverrary Classics, the Tournament Players Championship and the LPGA Phar-Mor Classic.
The seventh hole was frequently mentioned among the best par 3s in Florida. The West course also closed, as are two nearby Robert Von Hagge and Bruce Devlin designs - the East and West courses at Woodlands Country Club in Tamarac.
Pheasant Run Golf Resort, St. Charles, Illinois
Father Time caught up with this aging resort in the Chicago suburbs. The hotel and course closed for good in March, and are currently being sold off as separate parcels, according to the Kane County Chronicle. The 6,400-yard course earned strong, consistent ratings from Golf Advisor users, averaging 4.5 stars. "It's a solid course which doesn't get the credit it deserves," wrote user 'tmconklin' in one of its last reviews in August 2019.
Bristol Harbour Golf Club, Canandaigua, New York
When I last played the 6,700-yard Bristol Harbour in 2014, I enjoyed the split personality of the Robert Trent Jones Sr. design. The front nine's soft, rolling land and wide-open spaces allowed golfers to ease into the round before the wild ride of the back nine, cut from hilly, forested terrain overlooking Canadaigua Lake. I never got the sense, though, the resort was all in on golf. Its conditioning was spotty. With so many solid courses around Rochester and the Finger Lakes, this was a culling of the herd that was probably necessary.
Elkins Ranch Golf Course, Fillmore, California
The owners of Elkins Ranch traded fairways for an avacado farm when this local favorite closed in September. The 6,306-yard par 71 averaged 4.2 stars. Golf Advisor user 'cdarby66' wrote: "Sad to see her go. Had to get in one last round before they close forever. Been playing here for over 30 years. I hope they grow good avocados off of this land."
Mount Brighton Golf Club, Brighton, Michigan
When Vail Resorts bought Mount Brighton in 2012, this result was probably inevitable. I attended the grand opening of what was originally called The Jackal at Mount Brighton, so this one stings a bit personally. Truth be told, I was never a fan. Too much water and mounding. The routing felt disjointed with so many radical ups and downs. The ski lifts and aging ski lodge cluttered what should have been beautiful views otherwise.
Madden Golf Course, Dayton, Ohio
Residents of Dayton, Ohio, were the biggest losers in 2020 as their city gave up on two municipal facilities, closing them on May 11 right before the impending golf boom. You could say city leaders missed a golden opportunity to save the Madden Golf Course and the Kittyhawk Golf Center, which had two regulation courses and an executive course. Ultimately, though, city officials probably made the right call, considering they didn't have the millions of dollars necessary to fix aging infrastructures, according to the Dayton Daily News. The one silver lining: The 36-hole Community Golf Club did survive the cut.