Calgary weather always makes it wishful thinking and iffy, but Calgary golfers are revved, ready and even anxious fore the 2023 season.
Ironically, as COVID scrambling is more and more distant in the rearview mirror, Calgary golf was one of the few, if not the only bright spots of the disruptive pandemic story. Lots of Calgarians happily escaped shutdowns and lockdowns by fleeing to local golf courses.
Of course, the focus is on Calgary golf and getting ready for the 2023 season but, the numbers underscore the tremendous popularity of golf throughout the province.
Golf is big business in Alberta. There are a total of 308 courses, and a majority (262) are 18 holes. Each year, the golf industry – from green fees, to equipment, club revenues, accessories – generates a staggering $2.8 billion into the Alberta economy, employing more than 34,000 people.
The National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) data tracked that, from 2015 to 2017, just before the crazy COVID years, the provincial average golf rounds per course was 25,038. Although the 2022 numbers are not yet finalized, the seasonal numbers could be as much as 25 to 30 per cent higher.
That trend, combined with Calgary’s 2023 calendar and pending the cooperation of the weather gods, is encouraging news for golfers, as well as the hardworking crews getting ready for the season at Shaganappi, McCall Lake, Confederation and all seven municipal courses, as well as Calgary’s private courses, like the popular Springbank Links.
“In 2021, City golf set records with the number of rounds and revenue,” says the upbeat John Faber, the City of Calgary’s golf lead. “With more activities open and available last year, we anticipated a slight drop. But to our surprise, we actually broke the records set in 2021, for both rounds played and for revenues.”
He cites the good-time stats that City of Calgary golf had 259,000 golfers play on municipal courses in 2022, and their impressive number does not include the people who went out to Calgary’s three driving ranges.
“Of course it’s overdue time to stop looking back on the COVID commotion,” says the personable Kevin Heise, general manager of Springbank Links. “But, despite all the negativity, it was a terrific boost, especially for Calgary golf. We saw more couples and families golfing, which really grew the game.
“There were lots of first-timers that kept our marshalls busy (which is a good problem to have), and many 1990 Spalding clubs and Big Bertha came out of retirement, from the back of Calgary garages,” he adds.
“And even though 2022 was a fantastic golf year, by comparison with the two pandemic years, actual numbers were down a bit.”
According to 2022 rounds-played numbers, “Shaganappi continues to ‘drive’ the popularity of City courses,” Faber says with a chuckle. “Mostly due to its easily accessible location, as well as the quality of the golf experience our team puts out. McCall Lake since the major renovation in 2018 has also seen a big increase in in turnout. The renovation modernized the course with new bunkering, many new putting surfaces, and the addition of more tee boxes for a wider variety of skill sets.”
As the calendar crept up on Calgary’s 2023 golf season, and surviving the usual highs and lows of Calgary winter, the workbooted and bundled crews have been at it, getting things ready for about three months. Their chores and schedules include tarps to remove, spring debris to clean up, accessories to put out, the all-important initial mowing of all surfaces, irrigation system start-ups, clubhouse clean-ups and more.
“Fingers crossed there is little to no disease, as our turf teams did a great job last fall, prepping for winter,” Faber points out. “Of course there are always downed trees, branches and leaves to pick up, and snow fences and tarps to be picked up and stored. And the turf equipment has been picked up from winter storage and it’s ready to go.”
Golf professionals caution about the importance of getting the body ready, especially after a winter’s worth of couch potato hibernation. PGA surveys show that some 60 per cent of golfers suffer one or more golf injuries every season.
The culprit is the nature of the golf swing, and ignoring off-season strength and flexibility training. Back pain is the most common golf injury, primarily due to golfers spending four to five hours in a bent position, while applying pressure to the spine and back muscles. The repetitive movement of the golf swing, especially at the start of a new season, puts considerable strain on the back.
With the routine seasonal golf course getting-ready chores come the many planned and scheduled changes, renovations and course adjustments.
“Moving into spring, our biggest task is to quickly finish Springbank’s renovation to hole #7,” Kevin Heise says. “After a couple of years of golfer feedback like: When are you going to blow this hole up? and I have a D6 Cat you can borrow, or Put a windmill on this hole, we had to agree. It did play too tough and we finally made a fix – a big fix.
“The fairway was totally re-shaped, leveled, widened and lengthened, Now, it’s a beauty! We’re bringing a big load of sod to get it into play, and it will play as a par-3, until the sod catches.”
John Faber explains the City priority that Calgary courses continually look at ways to improve or expand on the all-important customer golf experience, from booking online until the drive out of the gates at the end of a round and thinking about the next round.
But, like other popular courses, there are always changes made. “Maple Ridge will have newly designed and built 13th and 14th holes,” he says. “The changes were necessary due to some changes by Alberta Transportation, to the Southland interchange.
“Hole 13 will still have that great panoramic view, but from new tees to a brand new green. Hole 14 has become a long par-4, instead of a short par-5, because we had to shift the tees northwest to accommodate the roadway realignment. Confederation has had the bridge structures resurfaced and a new high net system was installed at the end of the range to help protect our neighbours.”
An important part of the getting ready for the season is planning ahead for lesson programs. As Faber points out, the City’s lesson programs are very popular and, in many cases, already with waitlists.
Springbank’s Kevin Heise mentions the enjoyable special and group events as key parts of any golf season. “Now that social distancing is long gone, we are seeing a healthy uptick in charity and corporate events bookings again. It’s such an important aspect of the Springbank good times. And we’re looking forward to another great year, especially showing off our revamped front 9,” he laughs.
Opening day? Always an iffy call for a Calgary golf season, pending pesky factors like hours of sunshine, temperatures and Chinook winds. For the course managers and crews, the key seasonal concerns are always the wet and soggy conditions that keep turf from being walkable and either causing turf damage or risking player safety.
“It’s a crazy wait-and-see situation,” Heise says. “We have been open as earlay as March 26, and one year we opened three times as the snow kept coming back. Typically, we will open the middle of April. Saying ‘middle’ gives us some flex!”