After warm weather tease, N.S. golf courses eager for season to start

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Jason Lohnes of the Nova Scotia Golf Association is expecting another good year for most golf courses. (Ryker Titus - image credit)
Jason Lohnes of the Nova Scotia Golf Association is expecting another good year for most golf courses. (Ryker Titus - image credit)

While many businesses have been ravaged by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, Nova Scotia's golf courses are looking forward to 2021, with one even taking advantage of recent warm weather to briefly open.

Bette Gourley, the owner of Fox Hollow Golf Club in Stewiacke, said she was booked "wall to wall" on Thursday and Friday.

"I am happy. I need a new fertilizer spreader and I'm hoping that this is going to allow me to buy a new fertilizer spreader," she joked.

Gourley said another factor driving demand is that many people would have normally flown south during the winter and now "they really need a fix."

Bette Gourley is the owner of Fox Hollow Golf Club in Stewiacke, N.S. Her course opened for a few days this week because of the good weather on Thursday and Friday.
Bette Gourley is the owner of Fox Hollow Golf Club in Stewiacke, N.S. Her course opened for a few days this week because of the good weather on Thursday and Friday.(Bette Gourley)

She said the long-term weather forecast is indicating flurries every day next week, so she doesn't plan to be open during March break.

Once the weather improves, Gourley anticipates an excellent year.

"Membership is up, green fees are up. Everything's looking good," she said.

It's an assessment largely shared by Jason Lohnes, the executive director of the Nova Scotia Golf Association.

He said 2020 was a strange year and golf courses were late opening because of pandemic restrictions.

"Once they did get open and went through what we called phase one of restrictions and then got into phase two of restrictions, opening up a little bit more, golf clubs and golf courses and driving ranges in general, had a very good season last season," he said.

Lohnes said it was "too bad for the kids who are on March break" that Nova Scotia's unpredictable weather means they may not may not be able to play.

Lack of tourists

While 2020 was a good year for many clubs, he said pandemic restrictions meant that clubs lost revenue on the food and beverage side, which wasn't offset by increased play.

Lohnes also said that some facilities depend more on tourist dollars than others and they would have taken a hit because of border restrictions.

"A place like Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs as an example, without travel coming in from outside of the country, it makes it tough for an operation like that," he said. "They really rely heavily on that, on that business."

Lohnes said reopening the Atlantic bubble would help ease the hardship on tourist-dependent clubs.

Gavan Fitzpatrick, the general manager of Grandview Golf & Country Club in Westphal, said his course isn't open yet and they usually let "Mother Nature make the call."

He said the there is no deep frost at his facility and he anticipates an early opening, but not in time for March break.

Golfers putt on the 17th green at the Cabot Cliffs golf course in Inverness, N.S.
Golfers putt on the 17th green at the Cabot Cliffs golf course in Inverness, N.S.(Tom Ayers/CBC)

He said the earliest date the facility ever opened was March 20, 2010.

Fitzpatrick said the golf course was running at 90 to 95 per cent of capacity every day last year and he is anticipating an excellent 2021.

"Our sales to date are up about 25 per cent going into the season, so we're certainly expecting a little bit more of the same as last year as far as the golf course goes," he said.

The Oakfield Golf and Country Club in Enfield won't be opening in time for March break.

General Manager Eric Tobin said Oakfield is typically one of the final golf courses in the area to open.

He said weather plays a factor in their opening date, but they position themselves "pretty high up the ladder for conditioning."

"We're giving ourselves an extra week. Two weeks goes a long way for the condition of the golf course," he said.

Social changes

Tobin said although turnout was excellent last year and he expects the much the same this year, many of the socializing aspects of the sport changed during the pandemic.

"Golf became a sport where people would come and pay their fees to go play and then get into the car and go home," he said.

Lohnes thinks it's inevitable that golf will return to that more social atmosphere as the pandemic becomes a thing of the past.

"I think the social part of golf, like some other sports, is a very important part of it, so I really don't see long-term changes because of because of that," he said.

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