The pandemic may have hit many industries hard, but many golf courses, including the one owned by the city of Oak Ridge, are reportedly doing well.
Michael Callender, general manager of Tennessee Centennial Golf Course in Oak Ridge, spoke to the Oak Ridge City Council at an August work session, sharing statistics, news and plans regarding the course, which he said will turn 25 next year.
“We’re seeing new faces every day,” he said regarding visitors to the course.
He and city Finance Director Janice McGinnis said the course had paid off its loan.
“This has been a struggle, but certainly the results speak for themselves,” Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said in response to the presentation, adding he hadn’t received a complaint about the course in over a year.
Callender said the revenue from the course has been growing. It was around $628,000 in 2018, when he took over as general manager, but rose to $1.069 million in 2020.
He said the number of rounds of golf has also increased. From July 2018 to June 2019, he said, golfers had played 21,900 rounds at the course, while from July 2019 to June 2020 there were 23,918 played. From July 2020 through June 2021, he said, there were 31,942 rounds played.
He said income from the driving range machine was $10,366 from July 2019 to June 2020 and $26,584 from July 2020 to June 2021.
“We’re just seeing more and more people enjoying the facility,” he said.
Callender credited the increases to the course “getting better each year.”
However, he said he thought there is another reason also.
“I think having that outside, safe activity during COVID-19 was a big driver of that,” he said regarding the driving range activity, specifically.
Congratulations. Great job, and I didn’t think it was possible. You’ve done it, and I am blown away,” Mayor Pro Tem Rick Chinn said in response to Callender’s presentation.
He asked if the upward trends were specific to Tennessee Centennial or extended to other golf courses.
Callender said that more rounds of golf being played is being seen throughout the country.
Golf Datatech reported in January that total rounds of golf played in the United States in 2020 were up 13.9 percent over 2019, largely due to golfers seeking recreational opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were not closed one day during the pandemic,” Callender said.
He said his course, like others, had to deal with precautions — specifically requiring people to ride in carts by themselves and having staff sanitize surfaces.
“Every course is seeing an uptick. Some more than others, and I really feel like we were just in the right place at the right time,” he said, again adding that on top of being open during the pandemic, the golf course had made improvements, which had helped the course do particularly well.
Both he and Chinn cited leasing new golf carts as an investment that had helped the course, and Callender said the lease was for four years, meaning it will soon be time to lease others. He also said the course is currently working on repairs to cart paths. In the future, he said, he wanted to work on accessibility measures for older golfers.
In response to questions from City Council member Jim Dodson, he spoke positively of the addition of the coffee house The Soulful Cup, which he said may draw in people who aren’t necessarily interested in the golf course.
He talked about possibly having new programs to work with young people.
in response to a question from Council member Chuck Hope, he said he was interested in working with The Patch, a par three course at The Preserve housing development in Oak Ridge, to help raise interest in golf in general.
You’ve made huge strides,” Council member Kelly Callison said, while Hope congratulated the groundskeepers and other staff members.
Callender said the course’s users mostly came from Oak Ridge, Hardin Valley and Knoxville, but some came from outside the state of Tennessee. He said the growth in course use was mostly from local people.