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2020 golf season sees major resurgence for the sport in southern Alberta

Click to play video '2020 golf season marked by uptick in sport’s popularity' 2020 golf season marked by uptick in sport’s popularity
WATCH ABOVE: The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on a lot of sectors of the economy, but golf courses in southern Alberta have had a banner year with more lessons, more new people trying the game and more demand for tee times. Danica Ferris has more.

It’s a sport you can enjoy at any age, and southern Alberta golf pros say lots of kids will look back on the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 as the year they took up golf.

“Especially early in the year, when soccer and baseball and [other] activities weren’t allowed,” said Dean Sklarenko, executive professional at the Picture Butte Golf Club, “golf kind of gave them that opportunity to get outside and enjoy sport.”

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At Lethbridge’s Paradise Canyon Golf Club, head pro Jae Maegaard said their junior program roughly doubled in participation from 2019.

“We noticed right from the get-go, with all the other sports and activities shut down, the border shut down, anybody that was going to travel or had a lake house in Whitefish couldn’t go, and a lot of those people had kids,” he said.

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“Some of the kids that would do spring hockey couldn’t, so we got an influx of junior members.”

Maegaard said in previous years the club was used to seeing about 30 kids out for the junior program. This year, that number was closer to 60.

And the jump in numbers hasn’t just been in the junior game.

“Their moms and dads got memberships, new golf clubs — the whole works,” he said.

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The surge of new players also meant more people looking to learn this season, with Maegaard cracking 500 lessons and more than doubling the amount of teaching he does in a typical year.

At Picture Butte, 2020 also set a new bar for demand.

“Our round count and daily play is certainly up,” Sklarenko said. “Record numbers for us at the club here at Picture Butte, which is encouraging. A lot of new faces.”

But the year has also proved challenging for clubs, as they had to get creative and adapt with limits on tournaments, corporate events, weddings and service in their food and beverage departments.

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Maegaard said the impact of those losses has been felt, but he’s proud of how his staff handled the unique year.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to get the revenue back from those events per se,” he said.

“We definitely saw an influx in other areas, and we were very conscious of what we were doing with staff hours, other departments being open — hours of operation changed in certain areas.”

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Despite that adversity, Maegaard believes 2020 will prove to be a real silver lining for the game moving forward.

“I think ultimately — certain categories and certain golf courses — this saved some areas for some. I don’t have the numbers to back up if golf was 100 per cent on a decline, but certainly we noticed some areas,” he said.

“I think now this is going to go forward for years to come.”

Both Paradise Canyon and Picture Butte Golf Club plan to have their final day of the 2020 season on Oct. 18, with the possibility to extend that if the forecast looks favourable.