Dallas-Fort Worth Works on Tours of Golf to Build a Surprise Boost for COVID

In 2021, 37.5 million Americans over the age of six played some form of golf, making it the most popular sport in the country, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Last year was, in general, a boom year for the golf business. Tours played are back at roughly the same level they were in 2000, when golf icon Tiger Woods took the PGA Player of the Year award and sparked new interest in the sport.

Then came 2022. As of April, the most recent data available, rounds played across the US were down 10% compared to last year, according to research firm Golf Datatech. In Texas, rounds played fell about 3% in that 12-month period.

Excluding the Dallas area, where tours are up 11% in April alone and 2% for the year.

So what should the golf industry do about the rest of the country?

Jacobs Yates, 15, left, and his brother Josh Yates, 19, practice golf swings on the driving range at Tennyson Park Golf Course in Dallas on Monday. (Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

One way is to keep players like Josh Yates from Texas Tech University hitting the links. One recent afternoon, he warmed up at the driving range at Tennyson Park Golf Course in Dallas before his round, and moved from his irons to his driver to polish the last few balls in the bucket. He’s been golfing for four years now but has started playing more throughout the pandemic because “there was nothing else for him to do”.

Companies in the golf world are optimistic that the sport can remain closer to the high of the year 2000 rather than regress to lower numbers before the pandemic. The much-publicized COVID boost played a major role in the growth, but in the past six years, golf has had more new golfers on an annual basis than in 1999 and 2000, the time when Woods took the world by storm. The lower number of rounds that started this year can also be attributed to bad weather for golfing across the country.

Dallas-Fort Worth is ground zero for the golf business, especially with the PGA headquarters moving from Florida to Frisco. The new site will contain 36 PGA-quality golf holes as well as the Omni PGA Frisco Resort which will feature no fewer than 500 rooms, a restaurant and a shop. The facility also features the latest technology, such as an indoor bunker and education center, as well as executive offices.

Dallas-based golf management company Arcis bought nine courses last year after acquiring seven courses from 2015 to 2019. The company has invested in all nine courses. There are two courses in Texas, including The Golf Club at Twin Creeks in Allen. Arcis, founded in 2013 by Southern Methodist University alumnus Blake Walker, has grown to become the second largest golf course operator in the country after Dallas-based Invited by acquiring a mix of daily fee real estate, resorts and private clubs. Arcis is backed by private equity firms Fortress Investment Group and Atairos.

“With COVID, our focus has not changed. It is more important today than ever as our members and guests use their clubs differently,” Walker said.

He said customers still spend on golf in a similar fashion, but they also buy more within the club. The future remains unclear, although Walker believes the company is heading in a positive direction.

Arcis Golf pumped $1 million into upgrades at Bear Creek near Dallas-Fort Worth...
Arcis Golf pumped $1 million into upgrades at Bear Creek near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.(Courtesy of Arcis Golf)

Invited, formerly known as ClubCorp, was recently valued at $4.5 billion as part of preparation for a potential initial public offering, something that private equity owner Apollo Global Management is considering early this year. The Dallas-based company owns more than 200 clubs in 30 states, as well as in two countries outside the United States.

They are not the only optimists in the sport.

Golftec, a golf teaching company in Colorado with several Dallas-Fort Worth locations, is moving its training center to a larger area in Irving. Drive Shack Inc. The Dallas-based company, which operates golf courses and golf-related social venues, reported a nearly 13% jump in revenue in the first three months of this year.

“There is good reason to believe that the game will continue to be healthier than it was before the pandemic,” said John Krzynoek, CEO of Golf Datatech.

The pandemic may have spurred a renewed boom, but business leaders in the golf industry are returning to the concept of making golf a more inclusive experience to explain why it is here to stay.

“Historically, as an industry, we haven’t done a great job of being inclusive, and I think that’s really starting to change,” said Invited CEO David Pillsbury.

Women’s membership is up 126% in the past three years in invited clubs, which Pillsbury attributes to programs like “Bad Moms” and “Game On” designed to create “small communities” of people with similar interests. The clubs also offer “Crush It,” a program intended for young golfers.

Arcis also offers programs for golfers of different backgrounds as well as hosts an annual fundraiser for the Els for Autism Foundation.

Of the 3.1 million junior golfers in 2021, more than a third were women and more than 25% were non-Caucasian, according to the National Golf Foundation. Both numbers are significantly higher than their respective values ​​of 15% and 6% during the early 2000s.

Golf is also working to attract new golfers by making space for itself in the entertainment industry. Topgolf, Dallas-based BigShots Golf (Invited majority owner), and Drive Shack offer a social golfing experience with food and drink in a restaurant. It has lowered the barrier of playing tremendously, both by providing equipment and by offering golfing experiences designed for newcomers.

Clubs adorn the bar area of ​​Puteri, an indoor mini golf course and entertainment concept in…
Clubs adorn the bar area of ​​Pottery, an indoor mini golf course and entertainment concept in The Colony.Follow Favorite

Drive Shack opened a high-end indoor bear concept called Puttery in September 2021 as another way to get more people involved. The company plans to focus on expanding Pottery across the country after generating $4.4 million in revenue from just two locations during the first quarter of 2022.

Hana Khoury, CEO of Drive Shack Inc.

The recreational aspect of golf is a positive for all golf companies, which are benefiting from the growing hype around the sport.

“There are a lot of great golf concepts out there. We don’t think it breaks up market share at all,” Walker said of golf entertainment companies.

The pandemic has made golf one of the few socially distanced outdoor activities available, and without daily activities like taking kids to school and playing soccer, the sport has flourished. As pre-pandemic measures resume, people in the industry are expecting a slight dip, but for the most part, this level of golf’s popularity is expected to remain.

Dallas-Fort Worth will get another boost to the golf market when the PGA courses open in Frisco in the spring of 2023.

“Dallas plays golf the same way New York funds,” Walker said.

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