With the 2021 golf season officially underway, courses in Airdrie are anticipating another busy spring and summer, as people seeking safe recreational options flock to the links during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks to an unseasonably warm start to spring, Airdrie’s local golf clubs – Woodside Golf Course and Apple Creek Golf Course – kicked off the 2021 season earlier than usual this year, with both businesses opening their gates in early April. Tyrel Babkirk, the head golf professional for Apple Creek, said the public response since then has already been overwhelming.
“It seems the golfing public is interested in getting outside, having some exercise and seeing their friends,” he said. “It’s been very busy already and most days have been sold out.”
Locally and nationwide, golf saw a noticeable increase in popularity in 2020, when pandemic-related restrictions prevented many people from other forms of sport or recreation. According to report from the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA), golf courses in Canada showed an increase in rounds played of 9.3 per cent in 2020, despite a delayed start to the season.
In anticipation of similar high demand in 2021, Babkirk said he encourages Apple Creek’s members to book their spots as far ahead as possible to ensure they get their tee times.
“Especially in the Calgary area, it was very busy last year, and it seems that trend is going to continue this season,” he said.
The sport was one of the first recreational industries to resume operations following the first wave of the pandemic last year. Chris McNicol, the head golf professional for Woodside Golf Course, said the earlier reopening was largely thanks to lobbying from industry members, who advocated to various levels of government that golf was a safe recreational option for the public.
“I think the game itself lends itself to [safety],” McNicol said. “It’s an outdoor activity where social distancing is easy to accomplish and it’s one of the only mental breaks available right now.”
In terms of public health protocols to limit the possibility of COVID-19 transmission between golfers, McNicol said courses are adhering to guidelines from the NGCOA. Safety protocols include spreading out tee times to provide more spacing between cohorts, limiting the times golfers can access the course to prevent overcrowding, not allowing walk-ons and limiting the number of people allowed in the pro shop at one time.
While playing a round of golf will still look a bit different this year than it did before COVID-199, Babkirk said the sport is a great recreational option during the pandemic, as it provides both physical and mental relief.
“It’s kind of the best of both worlds,” he said. “Also, with the way the game is played, you can easily socially distance and it’s a safe environment to be outside and enjoy.”
For people who are looking to get into the sport for the first time this spring, both McNicol and Babkirk said the best thing to do is start with some basic lessons on the driving range.
“It would probably be pretty overwhelming to be out on a golf course that is running at 95 per cent capacity on most days without some kind of pre-training,” McNicol said. “There are a ton of great camps being offered to all age levels right now – if you’re going to get into it, that would be my way to try and get you in comfortably.”