Call it the “COVID-19 effect,” but over the last couple of years the number of beginning golfers hit record levels.

Three million newcomers took up the game in 2020, as people were looking for safe, outdoor activities they could do with friends and family, according to the National Golf Foundation. That translated into a record 3.2 million Americans hitting the links for the first time in 2021.

Despite this season starting late due to a wet and cold spring, when compared to last year, the golf industry expects the growth trend to continue around the Grand Traverse area this summer.

“The last two seasons have been off the charts. It kind of reminds me of when we bought the course in 1997 and Tiger Woods erupted on the golf scene. We saw an increase in interest and play at that time, but the last couple of years has eclipsed that,” said Mike Brown, co-owner of A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort overlooking Torch Lake in Kewadin. “This spring was not as nice as last year. We opened a month later, but despite that I’m expecting it to be another record year. Advance bookings are ahead of last season.”

The resort has a new pro shop, cart barn and and new carts ready for the season, along with 200 beds in various lodging options throughout the property.

A-Ga-Ming will host the Michigan Junior State Amateur Championship July 11 to 14 on the Sundance golf course, further boosting business.

On the other side of Torch Lake in Bellaire is Shanty Creek Resort, which boasts five golf courses, including the newly added Hawk’s Eye Golf Course that opened last season. It also has Arnold Palmer’s Legend Golf Course and the Cedar River Golf Course designed by Tom Weiskopf. All of its courses combined gives golfers 90 holes at one destination, ranking it among the largest golf resorts in North America.

“We’ve made many improvements to the overall appearance of Hawk’s Eye. Last year was our first season with it. Advance reservations for all five courses is running ahead of last year,” said Lindsey Southwell, director of marketing.

South of Shanty Creek is Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, and it’s also prepping for another great season.

“We had our best year ever in 2021,” said Tom McGee, the resort’s longtime director of golf operations. “It was record setting, and advance reservations are pacing ahead of last season once again. What’s encouraging is that a lot of new golfers are picking up the game, and many are coming back after having given it up a number of years ago. The beauty of the courses and being outside. People are discovering it’s a winning combination.”

Roughly 20 miles south of Traverse City is Crystal Mountain. It has two golf courses, Mountain Ridge and Betsie Valley, that total 36 holes. Betsie Vally was recently renovated, offering a whole new look, according to Brittney Buti, manager of public relations at Crystal Mountain.

Fairways were widened, some of the tee boxes were altered and trees were removed as part of forest management, which created a more links-style waste area with exposed sandy soil. More fescue grasses were also planted, she said.

“It will be a whole new experience for golfers. We expect another busy golf season with outings and tournament play. Lots of events are already on the books,” she said. “We added TrackMan 4 technology (a golf launch monitor) to the resort’s teaching program, which will benefit students of all age and skill levels.”

Crystal Mountain will be hosting the prestigious Michigan PGA Women’s Open Tournament June 27 to 29, always a popular spectator event.

Bay Meadows family golf facility, in addition to providing a nine-hole par three and full nine hole course, also offers a learning center with “state of the art” video cameras, Trackman 4 and K-Motion body monitors for their PGA instructors to provide instruction year round.

“Our mission is to make golf a fun family event,” said owner Mike Husby.

Interlochen Golf Course also made improvements and removed several old trees, which will help the turf and conditioning of the golf course, says Owner Brad Dean.

“It opened the course for visibility and aesthetics, which will improve the playing conditions,” he said. “We are expecting another very good year. It’s improved every year since I bought it four years ago. We’ve seen more new golfers coming into the game every year, and our local rates for area residents has helped a lot. They just show their ID and receive a special local rate.”

Elmbrook Golf Course in Traverse City will again be open for 18 holes of golf, said the golf course’s new General Manager Jamie Doriot. They are in the process of giving the club house and pro shop a facelift. They also have a full schedule of league play, including night golf and golf-and-dine outings scheduled throughout the summer and fall.

In Suttons Bay, just north of Traverse City, is Bahle Farms Golf Course that operated under new ownership last year. It was a successful first season while learning a lot about the golf business, said Marketing and Events Manager Melissa Orb.

“It was a success despite jumping into the business right at the start of last season. We learned a lot along the way,” she laughed. “Last year we didn’t have a liquor license for much of the season. This year the bar is back open, the beverage cart will be running and we’ll be having more offerings for food and beverage in the clubhouse. We will be hosting several fundraising outings in addition to league play.”

Mike Terrell is a columnist for the Traverse City Record-Eagle. He’s also a member of the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA) and has written about area golf courses for 30 years.

Mike Terrell is a columnist for the Traverse City Record-Eagle. He's also a member of the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA) and has written about area golf courses for 30 years.

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