Somersett Golf and Country Club, a par-72 championship course nestled in the community of Somersett in West Reno, has seen a surge in new memberships since the pandemic hit.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story includes quotes from an interview conducted March 30 with Jim Cleary, who at the time was general manager at Red Hawk Golf and Resort in Sparks. Last week, it was announced Cleary was hired as general manager at the The Club at ArrowCreek in Reno. Cleary’s comments in the below story are specific to his time at Red Hawk; read more about his hiring at ArrowCreek in the sidebar added to the end of this story.
Before the pandemic struck, golf was in a rough spot. The number of rounds played annually were flat, equipment sales lagged and TV ratings were down. One study by golf industry group Pellucid Corp. showed the number of regular golfers fell from 30 million to 21 million from 2002 and 2016.
COVID, however, has driven people to golf courses in droves — and the game has been on a roll ever since.
Take Red Hawk Golf and Resort in Sparks as an example. After being shut down for nearly two months early in the pandemic, Red Hawk saw golfers come out of the woodwork after reopening last spring.
“As soon as it was recognized as an acceptable recreational activity, by nature, given the constraints of social distancing, all of a sudden golf took off,” said Jim Cleary, general manager at the course. “We’ve seen a surge in golf demand and interest. We’ve seen lots of new players come to the game and, frankly, business — from a golf perspective and the number of players — has been strong.”
Red Hawk, which features a 7,400-yard public course and a 7,100-yard private course, saw the number of rounds played in 2020 jump 15% over 2019, Cleary said.
And even though other parts of Red Hawk’s business — from wedding events to clubhouse dining — were depressed last year, the golf club’s revenue still grew about 10% in 2020, he added.
It’s not just veteran players hitting the links. Cleary said Red Hawk has seen a rise in new golfers as well as players who had “fallen away from the game” getting back in the swing of things.
“With the renewed availability of time, reduced options in terms of entertainment, and, again, golf being recognized as an acceptable recreational activity, that confluence of factors brought to bear a resurgence in the game,” Cleary said.
A resurgence, indeed. Nationwide, golfers played roughly 500 million rounds in 2020, the most since 2007, according to the National Golf Foundation. Research firm U.S. Golf Datatech reported a 13.9% increase in rounds played, the largest increase since the company began tracking in 1998.
In fact, the NGF reports there’s only been one other year that saw a bigger rise in interest in the sport: 1997, the year Tiger Woods became a golfing sensation.
And the interest is teed up to grow. The NGF says the number of non-golfers who say they’re “very interested” in playing golf has risen to 17 million, up 1.5 million from 2019.
Which begs the question: How does a golf course keep them interested?
Some are simply paying more attention to what customers want. At Somersett Golf and Country Club in West Reno, in 2020, the par-72 championship course rolled out a restructured membership program to cater to a wider demographic to its community, said Tim Smith, general manager.
“Before, we had a membership program that was basically one program,” Smith said. “And the market was looking at other options, such as single or double, family and corporate memberships.”
As a result of the change, Somersett sold 110 new memberships in 2020 — a 32% increase in the club’s membership compared to 2019, Smith said.
“We’re addressing the needs of the community and the needs of what our neighborhood and residents around us was looking for,” Smith said. “And we have this beautiful facility in the middle of roughly 4,000 homes. And people want to get out of their homes and be outside.
“A lot of individuals decided to join because we were offering a single or couple membership.”
Yet, with last year’s loss of weddings, corporate events and weekend tournaments, Somersett Golf and Country Club’s revenue in 2020 was flat compared to 2019.
“It wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” Smith said. “Being a private country club, that growth in membership programs kept us strong for the year.”
And it’s showing no signs of weakening any time soon. In 2021, the private course already added another 40 memberships in the first quarter alone.
“We’re plus 40% in memberships in the past 16 months,” Smith said. “The demand is still extremely strong right now. I think all the golf courses will do well in 2021 and beyond.”
Club at ArrowCreek hires new management team
Last week, The Club at ArrowCreek announced the hiring of a new leadership team, led by Jim Cleary as general manager.
According to an April 29 press release, Cleary will guide the private golf course as it continues its $50 million renovation project, which includes a new clubhouse, multiple new dining options, a new pool complex and a new meeting and event space, available to rent by the public.
Cleary, who has more than 34 years of experience, most recently served as GM of Red Hawk Golf and Resort in Sparks; he previously held the title of COO at The Lodge of Four Seasons and The Club at Porto Cima, both in Missouri.
Additionally, Nathaniel Brethold was hired as assistant general manager, and Chef Leon Teow will serve as director of culinary operations, according to the press release, which notes the club is currently hiring for several seasonal, part-time and full-time positions.
The new hires come roughly a year after The Club at ArrowCreek’s ownership announced on May 5, 2020, the selection of Troon Privé — the private club operating division of Scottsdale, Arizona-based company Troon — to oversee all club operations.