All across the country golf courses have experienced and uptick in play on the heels of COVID-19 restrictions and protocols. That has certainly been true for Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses, including those in the Lagniappe coverage area — Mobile’s Magnolia Grove and Point Clear’s Lakewood Golf Club.
The Magnolia Grove facility recorded a 20 percent increase in rounds in 2021 vs. 2020 and enjoyed its most profitable year since 2001, while Lakewood had a record year in terms of rounds, new memberships, revenue and profits.
Nate Lilley, director of golf at Magnolia Grove, said, “Every facet of our business fired on all cylinders in 2021. Local play, including our Trail Card, annual members and tournaments were up dramatically. After dealing with the effects of COVID for most of 2019, our travelers returned, anchored by our major events such as the LPGA Q-Series, Korn Ferry Q-School, Couples and Oilmen events. Our outlook for 2022 is even brighter. With advance tournament and out-of-state golfers booking ahead of last year’s pace, we are expecting even better results in 2022.”
Lakewood Golf Club Director of Golf Niall Fraser said, “With the recently renovated Grand Hotel and the influx of families from all around the country relocating to the Point Clear and Fairhope communities, our two golf courses have never been busier. Hosting another USGA national championship in 2021 (U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur) only solidified our commitment to the future growth of the game at Lakewood.”
While the world understandably reacted to the initial COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020 with isolation, masking, lockdowns and travel restrictions, the relative safety presented by outdoor activities and recreation experienced newfound popularity unseen in nearly a century. The National Golf Foundation and Golf Datatech, the two most prominent golf industry data analysts, estimate that nationwide, the golf industry experienced a growth of between 5 and 7.5 percent in total rounds played year over year in 2021. In the most successful year in its 30 years in business, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail grew total rounds by 25.4 percent from 2020 to 2021, playing more than 600,000 rounds for the first time and far outpacing the national trend.
Mike Beverly, president of Sunbelt Golf Corporation, which manages the Trail on behalf of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), said in a press release, “In my 30 years of experience, the past 18 months has gone from the most challenging to the most transformational time for the entire golf industry. … We recognized early in the pandemic that there would be global consequences, sometimes devastating to millions of people and their families. We did, however, understand the obligation to our employees, customers, and our owners required we do whatever necessary to operate the safest and most successful business possible in this new environment.”
Historically, 50 percent or more of the Trail’s customers have come from outside of the state of Alabama. However, the onset of COVID-19 in March of 2020 initially devastated the Trail’s ability to draw guests from around the country. As a result, 2020 saw the percentage of out-of-state rounds tumble to a historic low of 22 percent of total rounds, while in-state golfers set historic highs in the last two quarters of 2020.
Since playing host to its first guests in 1992, the Trail has hosted golfers from all 50 states every year except 1992 and 2020. 2021 saw a return to the Trail from guests from all 50 states.
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