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Swing state: What’s driving Queenslanders to the golf course in record numbers?


Golf, it seems, is the perfect game for physical distancing, even if Queensland’s courses are more crowded these days thanks to COVID-19, writes Brad Cooper

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Coronavirus is helping golf break new ground – driving club memberships back towards historically high levels not seen in two decades.

And a large part of that growth is being generated in regional Queensland, data supplied exclusively to InQueensland from the sport’s governing body, Golf Australia, has revealed.

As lockdowns early in the pandemic threw sport at all levels into disarray and disruptions continue throughout many parts of the country, golf in Queensland at least has barely broken stride.

That’s good news not only for the sport’s administrators and club managers in local communities doing brisk business, but also for the broader sporting economy, with the momentum expected to carry all the way to the Australian PGA being hosted at Royal Queensland Golf Club in December thanks to the State’s successful coronavirus containment so far.

The signs were there at the end of last year that golf was taking modest steps towards bringing more people back to the game, still played predominantly by older men, an image the game struggles to shake.

If you were among the 878,000 Australians representing 4.2 per cent of the adult population who played golf at least once last year, it’s more likely you’ll be about 56 years old, according to the average age profile included in the game’s participation report for 2019 published last month.

But you’re also more likely to be playing in Queensland, with the State leading the nation in club member growth, just ahead of South Australia, but all other states going backwards.

Queensland was also the only State to record an increase in regional club membership, with a rise of 1.7 per cent.

In a highly competitive field where every sporting body celebrates gains in player participation in the slimmest of single digits, coronavirus has produced a surge of new interest in golf that no professional superstar or high-priced marketing campaign has been able to inspire.

Queensland is literally back in the swing, with numbers on golf courses averaging 18 per cent growth over the last three months when compared to the same time last year. Some clubs are asking members to book tee times 10 days in advance to avoid disappointment.

Goondiwindi Golf Club manager Nicky Kruger has been watching numbers at his regional course soar since the first stirrings of the pandemic’s restrictions started to tighten in February.

Appointed in late 2018 to revitalise the club, the South African golf professional was already on a path to expanding the facility’s sporting and social program when coronavirus lobbed in and fundamentally changed the trajectory of his business four hours south-west of Brisbane.

New members since February have swelled 75 per cent, while competition rounds have exploded from 120 to more than 200 each week.

Juniors have gone from six regulars to 18, while a program tailored towards getting more youngsters from surrounding Indigenous communities into the game is proving popular.

And it’s all been achieved in a climate where some customer traffic from NSW, just over the Macintyre River, has been slowed during border closures.

“We didn’t have to do much, the business just came to us – it’s been quite phenomenal,” Kruger said.

Golf Australia’s Queensland manager Luke Bates said the resurgence has been interesting to observe, especially since Queensland golf courses were under the threat of closure when lockdown measures were being considered earlier in the year.

“There was this very nervous 24-hour period when golf club managers across the State thought they were going to have to close indefinitely,” Bates said.

“Thankfully the State Government turned that around but it was something of a blessing in disguise because it showed to club members what a life without golf could look like and I think ever since there’s been a kind of rejoicing in the game, with people taking whatever opportunity they can get to get out and play.

“It’s also the perfect game for social distancing. I mean, if you can’t keep your distance from other people on an 18-hole golf course there’s something seriously wrong.”

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