Want a September or October tee time at one of the top golf resorts in the U.S.? Maybe take a foursome to Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes or any of a handful of bucket-list destinations? You had better book now.
And that’s for 2022.
At many resorts, you can forget about scoring multiple, prime tee times in the fall of 2021. You might be able to get out as a single, and you might even have luck finding a midweek slot for a foursome. Hoping to book a big buddies trip for multiple weekend days anytime over the next three months? Best of luck to you, and plan to cast a wide net.
Many industry observers and managers report that demand for tee times hasn’t been this high in more than a decade, since before the market crash of 2008. With an increasing number of Americans returning to recreational travel after COVID-19 restrictions have eased or ceased, many top golf resorts are packed.
Rounds of golf played in the U.S. surged in the second half of 2020 as golf was seen as a relatively safe activity during COVID-19 lockdowns, and that growth extended into the early months of 2021. June was considered to be a great test of sustained growth, as June 2020 saw a 13.9-percent increase in year-over-year rounds played nationwide versus June 2019, according to the National Golf Foundation and market-research company Golf Datatech. Could that kind of interest in golf be maintained into 2021? The answer is yes, as June 2021 saw a slight increase of 0.4 percent over June 2020. It appears, at least for now, that increased interest in golf might be a new normal.
It follows a tough year for many resorts, some of which were forced to shutter their courses early in the pandemic. When play resumed, many potential guests were understandably hesitant to travel. But now, just more than a year after they fully reopened and with players champing at the bit to play highly rated courses, many of these resorts are booming.
“Golf already had a tailwind because of COVID, and then you had people cooped up for the better part of a year, and now people are looking to get out, explore, play golf, take vacations,” said Aaron Flink, the executive vice president and chief strategy officer at Pebble Beach Resorts in California, home to Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and the Links at Spanish Bay. “It’s been nice to see that rebound, nice to see people on property again, and nice to see our hotels and golf courses full.”
Pebble Beach is running on its website a warning about limited availability and long wait times for booking calls. The resort’s main three courses are each inside the top 100 on Golfweek’s Best list of top resort courses in the country, including No. 1 Pebble Beach Golf Links. Flink said that famous course – host of six previous U.S. Opens – never has a real lack of players on its tee sheet. But even with that in consideration, the course – which Flink said typically hosts more than 60,000 rounds a year – is having its busiest season since the 2008 recession. The resort is also home to a newly renovated short course, the Hay, which features a design by Tiger Woods.
“We keep telling people, if you want to come to Pebble, get your trip booked now,” Flink said. “If you want to be here in the summer or fall, now is the time to start your planning for ’22.”
The resort operates 495 guest rooms in its three hotels – The Lodge at Pebble Beach, The Inn at Spanish Bay and Casa Palmero – enough to accommodate all the players at its three main courses. But availability in one of those rooms with an accompanying weekend tee time is extremely limited, based on the resort’s online booking calendar.
One open spot is around the winter holidays. There are rooms available the last two weeks of 2021 and first two weeks of 2022, and Flink said the resort’s location on the Pacific Ocean provides reasonable and consistent winter weather. The period from December 22 to January 5 might be the best option to play Pebble Beach for months.
Calling it a “post-COVID gold rush,” Flink said all the demand for rounds at the resort’s three main 18s includes an increased percentage of first-time guests. And it’s almost entirely domestic travelers filling the tee sheets – in a normal year Pebble Beach might have 10 percent or slightly more of its guests from other countries, Flink said, but now the resort is drawing almost entirely U.S.-based players. If international recreational travel picks up, demand at Pebble Beach is likely to spike even higher.
The new Sheep Ranch at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon (Courtesy of Bandon Dunes)
It’s a similar story up the Pacific coast at another top golf destination, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. Like Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes has on its website a warning about extremely high call volumes from people looking to books golf vacations. Bandon Dunes is home to five of the top 10 courses on Golfweek’s best list of top resort layouts in the U.S.
“We’re experiencing record-breaking occupancy rates and golf rounds throughout 2021, even with the addition of 24 new guest rooms that we opened on August 1,” said Don Crowe, general manager of Bandon Dunes. “This demand continues into 2022 based on early booking trends and high call volume in our reservations department. For larger groups with multiple night stays, we recommend that groups start the booking process at least a year in advance.”
The same is happening around the country at top resorts. For a Midwest example, Destination Kohler in Wisconsin – host of this month’s Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits and home to four top-ranked courses in all – is running a website warning about unprecedented call volume and advising guests to use its new online booking system.
Streamsong Red in Florida (Courtesy of Streamsong/Laurence Lambrecht)
The same is true in the Southeast. Craig Falanga, the director of sales and marketing at Streamsong Resort in Florida, said that destination’s three courses already are experiencing strong demand for April of 2022, following month after month of record amounts of play. Streamsong is home to three courses – the Red, Blue and Black – that all rank inside the top 25 on Golfweek’s Best resort courses list.
“I would definitely agree with you that people need to book earlier than they might normally as buddy golf trips seem to be more popular than ever,” Falanga said in an email.
The message is clear: If you want to take a group of players to a top golf destination with great accommodations in 2022, you need to plan now.