PICTURED: Finishing up on the 18th green. Photo courtesy of Buenaventura Golf Course

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

nshaffer@timespublications.com

Gyms have suffered, theaters have closed and people are spending more time than ever in front of a screen. There has, however, been one industry that’s grown during the pandemic.

“It’s been a good thing for golf,” says Anna Atwell, director of sales and marketing for Buenaventura Golf Course and Olivas Links, both in Ventura and managed by property management group KemperSports. “It’s definitely a lot busier.”

It’s a countrywide trend. According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), golf has enjoyed a surge in popularity, particularly from June through October 2020. Compared to 2019, 2020 saw a 14% increase in rounds played, an 8% increase in total participation (i.e. on-course, putting green and driving range play combined) and a net gain of 500,000 on-course golfers (reported to be “the largest lift in 17 years”). And that’s including the closures of March and April! NGF CEO Joe Beditz, writing in the foundation’s Jan. 28, 2021 issue of the bi-weekly newsletter Fortnight, called 2020 an “astonishing year,” saying, “There hasn’t been this much optimism and new activity in the golf business since the turn of the century.”

Active, outside and contact-free

According to Atwell, the courses are seeing an upswing both in regulars who are coming more frequently, and those new to the sport — particularly young players.

“It’s all over the place,” she says. “We’ve always had the normal weekly senior plays — retired folk. We’re getting a lot of junior players, too. They’re looking for things to do outside of Zoom school.”

Junior League at Olivas Links. Photo courtesy of Olivas Links

Summer camps on the golf course have always been popular, but Atwell says that the 2020 summer season was particularly busy: “It filled up very quickly.” Camps will be offered again this summer, with an extra week added.

Atwell attributes much of this growth in popularity to the fact that golf is a contact-free recreational experience. Courses are outside, with plenty of elbow room, and people are naturally kept separated by different tee times. It’s also active but low impact. Plus, being out in the fresh air and sunshine just plain feels good.

“It’s a good outdoor activity,” she says. “It’s a daily opportunity to get outside. If you choose to walk, it’s good exercise. Golfing 18 holes means four to six miles of walking, depending on how far you have to go to chase the ball! We have no rental right now, so people bring their own equipment.”

Previously, most golfers at Olivias Links and Buenaventura Golf Course preferred to ride in golf carts. That appears to be changing.

“We’ve had more walkers since the pandemic,” she notes. “We opened back up in May, and it was walking only. Then we only had a few carts, so people often had no choice. Now we have golf carts with dividers. But more people are walking than they did before. They were forced into it for a few months and realized they liked it!”

Golfing can boost mental health, too, in Atwell’s opinion. “It is an escape. You don’t have distractions, especially if you don’t bring your phone. And it’s quiet. They’re very flat and natural courses; you’re kind of out in parkland.”

Many ways to play

No matter what style of golf you like, these two courses — just three miles apart on Olivas Park Road — offer plenty of options.

Atwell describes Buenaventura Golf Course as “historic, old-style parkland with narrower and shorter fairways. We get a lot more senior play at Buenaventura.” Buena Grill offers burgers, sandwiches and a few breakfast items for patio dining or takeout.

Olivas Links has “rolling, undulating fairways. There are fewer trees, but it’s a more natural habitat. It’s longer and more challenging.”

Family at the driving range. Photo courtesy of Olivas Links

There is no clubhouse at Olivas Links (so no food onsite), but it does have a driving range and a putting green.

While Atwell says that the courses are busy “from dusk until dawn,” afternoons are quieter — and cost less.

“Starting at 12 p.m., we have our ‘twilight’ discounted rates,” Atwell explains. “Which is earlier than a lot of courses. Afternoon rates are cheaper because you may not be able to get the full 18 holes in. But if you start at or near 12 p.m., you often can do the whole course for the reduced rate.”

Golfing a full 18 holes usually takes about four hours. If you’re short on time, practice long shots at the Olivas Links driving range, or refine short strokes on the putting green.

“If you don’t have time for a four-hour game, you can hit a bucket of balls and enjoy that time, get out of the house and into the fresh air and sunshine.”

Atwell emphasizes that Olivas in particular is a good spot for beginners. The course hopes to open classes in the spring.

“I encourage people even if they’ve never played before to come to Olivas late in the afternoon. It’s a mellow time on the golf lanes,” she says. “If there’s a place to learn that’s not intimidating, this is it. It’s a great place to learn.”


VENTURA COUNTY COURSES

Buenaventura Golf Course, 5882 Olivas Park Drive, Ventura, 805-677-6772, www.buenaventuragolf.com

Camarillo Springs Golf Course, 791 Camarillo Springs Road, Camarillo, 805-484-1075, www.camarillospringsgolf.com

Los Robles Greens, 299 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, 805-495-6421, www.losroblesgreens.com

Olivas Links, 3750 Olivas Park Drive, Ventura, 805-677-6770, www.olivaslinks.com

River Ridge Golf Club, 2401 W. Vineyard Ave., Oxnard, 805-983-4653, www.riverridge-golfclub.com

Rustic Canyon Golf Course, 15100 Happy Camp Canyon Road, Moorpark, 805-530-0221, www.rusticcanyongolfcourse.com

Saticoy Regional Golf Course, 1025 S. Wells Road, Ventura, 805-647-6678, saticoygc.com

Simi Hills Golf Course, 5031 Alamo St., Simi Valley, 805-522-0803, www.simihillsgolf.com

Soule Park Golf Course, 1033 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, 805-646-5633, soulepark.com

Sterling Hills Golf Club, 901 Sterling Hills Drive, Camarillo, 805-604-1234, www.sterlinghillsgolf.com

Tierra Rejada Golf Club, 15187 Tierra Rejada Road, Moorpark, 805-531-9300, www.tierrarejadagolf.com

Wood Ranch Golf Club, 301 N. Wood Ranch Parkway, Simi Valley, 805-527-9663, www.woodranchgc.com