Border closing has negative impact on some courses

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Updated: November 1, 2021

It is redundant to say that things have changed since the onset of the pandemic. 

Like everything else, golf has also been affected.  Washington golfers remember when the courses were forced to close on March 23, 2020 for over a month. And, remember too the changes to the game, like flags not allowed to be removed, and the Styrofoam pads in the holes to keep the ball from going to the bottom of the hole. It was weird but it was better than no golf at all. 

Meanwhile, Idaho and Oregon were among the states that allowed golf courses to remain open. All golf courses had initially taken a hit from early 2020 restrictions, fortunately most saw a resurgence of play later in the year when more people–many new to the game–started coming out. Courses near the border with Canada have had a different set of challenges.

North of the border sits 5.1 million people and some of them routinely cross the border taking advantage of cheaper products and services and some even have second homes in the state. Annual border crossings are estimated at 14 million with most of those being Canadians. That all ended on March 21, 2020 when the border was closed. 

Some of the golf courses near the border, having had to deal with a significant loss of revenue, are anxious if not desperate to see the Canadian traffic return. While hopes are placed on the reopening of the border, Laurie Truman, director of Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University speculates that the rebound will be slow. Not good news.

The U.S. said they would open the border in August of 2021. When that didn’t happen, they said the date would be in September. That didn’t happen either.  Last month the U.S. said that it will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel in early November (at this time, Nov. 8 is the target date), ending a 19-month freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the country moves to require all international visitors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Not all border courses are affected the same way: Nathan Vickers, the Head Golf Professional at North Bellingham, said they were expecting a big drop in play but in fact had a 30% increase in rounds from a resurgence in play. On the flip side, Robert Pace of Shuksan stated that Canadians make up about 60% of there business and while new players have helped, it hasn’t made up the loss of Canadian traffic. Their rounds are down about 50% from pre pandemic numbers. 

When asked if he thought the Canadians might change there buying habits after the long closure, Vickers thought they would come back because the courses across the border are so full, that it’s hard to get a tee times there. He did say he thought the re-entry requirements might stop many Canadians from coming across for golf. At this time, re-entry into Canada by all travelers, including Canadians must show proof of a full series of approved COVID-19 vaccination and show a negative molecular (COVID) test within 14 days. The U.S. recently announced that it will open its doors to Canadians who are fully vaccinated on Nov. 8, but it’s still unclear if Canada will follow suit, so travelers heading into Canada should be prepared to take a COVID test as well as show proof of vaccination.                

Homestead Farms in Bellingham has had about the same experience as Shuksan. Evan Rossmiller at Homestead said they get about 60% of their play from Canadians and have put more efforts into increasing tournament play and golf camps to offset the loss. They have also had more local play, which has helped, but hasn’t made up the loss.

Other courses that we contacted in the Bellingham area had similar stories of lost traffic. Even Avalon Golf Links, with 27 holes, located in Burlington, about an hour south of the border, said they experienced a loss of about 10% from Canadian play. However, Ron Hass, the General Manager, said their overall play was up and credits it to more families coming out to play. 

Undoubtedly the hardest hit from the border closing has been Bald Eagle Golf Club at Point Roberts, which was forced to completely close down until the Canadians are allowed back in. 

No matter if the border opens in November, it will be an immediate boon to most businesses, but the impact on golf courses will not be realized until the spring of 2022 when the golf season starts to ramp up.

All hopes are that the border opening will be a sign that we are finally starting to turn the corner on the pandemic.