Golf is sustaining an upswing in participation around Colorado Springs and the nation after the COVID-19 pandemic drove people outdoors and ignited a new interest in the sport.
A national record of 3.2 million first-time golfers was reported in 2021, according to the National Golf Foundation. Colorado Springs businesses are feeling the boom between local courses booking up tee times, equipment stores opening and youth golf programs expanding.
“Golf certainly has experienced a resurgence,” said Mark Kelbel, former head golf pro at The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs and program director of the Broadmoor Caddy & Leadership Academy. “Demand to be taught is very, very high.”
Golf was a natural activity for many people to turn to during the pandemic because it was outdoors, making it easy to social distance while offering human connection. As COVID-19 has subsided, golf has been a safe way to get out of the house and back into the world, Kelbel said.
“I think people have rediscovered golf as a great option for their physical health and mental health,” Kelbel said.
“Because you can get out, you can socialize, it gives people a reason to get dressed up and go to the golf course.”
Kelbel has spent his life entrenched in golf, but his most recent roles involve teaching. In running the Broadmoor Caddy & Leadership Academy, Kelbel helps teens learn leadership skills while exposing them to golf.
Kelbel also founded Fearless Golf, a nonprofit program that uses golf to help at-risk youth and young adults find a healthier lifestyle.
Fearless Golf doubled in size over the past year from 100 participants to 200 and the Broadmoor Caddie & Leadership Academy grew more than 40% from the previous year, Kelbel said.
“I would say that anybody that discovers or rediscovers it (golf) is very fortunate because of the lessons we’ve learned through the pandemic,” Kelbel said.
“Which means we simply shouldn’t take any day for granted in regards to our physical or mental health and the ability to get out and enjoy each other’s company.”
As interest in golf grows, Kelbel said he’d like to see more public courses in Colorado Springs.
Through the years, multiple golf courses in Colorado Springs have shut down, including Appletree Golf Course, Vineyard Golf Club and Silver Spruce Golf Course. One of the most recent losses was Springs Ranch, a privately owned, publicly accessible course on the east side of the city.
“Public courses are great entry points,” Kelbel said. “It’s a great entry point for instruction. It’s a great entry point just to be comfortable on the golf course, and you get to know people through that.”
The demand for golf is pushing public courses like Patty Jewett Golf Course to the limit.
During the summer, Patty Jewett booked 98% of its tee times in 2022, with the number of rounds up 10% from pre-pandemic year of 2019, said Patrick Gentile, golf division manager for the city of Colorado Springs, who oversees the city’s two public courses, Patty Jewett and Valley Hi golf courses.
Similar to Kelbel, who’s seen an uptick in young golfers, Gentile has seen more younger golfers and more female golfers on the course.
“What we kind of see is the kind of different dynamic of golfers today,” Gentile said.
“We have more young people. … Somewhere in that 20 to 40 range are playing more than they did.”
Young adults ages 18-34 make up golf’s biggest customer age segments, with 6.1 million people in the US, according to data from the National Golf Foundation.
Gentile said other golf options in the Colorado Springs area such as TopGolf — a driving range and entertainment venue — help generate interest in the sport for people who otherwise might not consider it. The TopGolf location in Colorado Springs opened in August of last year.
Club Champion, a club-fitting studio that opened at 7431 N. Academy Blvd. in May, has received a warm welcome in the Springs, said Nick Sherburne, Club Champion’s founder.
“Colorado Springs has gotten off to an extremely strong start,” he said of the new location. “And it easily … should exceed our year one expectations.”
Sherburne said his company saw an opportunity to flourish in Colorado Springs because of its weather, population growth, customer demographic and surrounding golf courses such as The Broadmoor.
Colorado Springs is the third Club Champion location in Colorado; it also has venues in Highlands Ranch and Westminster.
“It’s a good golf state,” Sherburne said. “…There’s a lot of great golf in Colorado that people don’t necessarily always think of.”