Rich Ferro of Massapequa tees off on the 13th Hole...

Rich Ferro of Massapequa tees off on the 13th Hole of Bethpage State Park's Yellow Course on Wednesday. Credit: James Escher

At this time last year the Long Island golf community was reeling from the effects of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Courses were closed, then opened with severe limitations that were gradually eased. But who knew what lie ahead?

"Last season was extraordinary with regards to the amount of golfers we saw at Long Island state park golf courses," said Chip Gorman, New York State Parks regional director for Long Island. "I want to say we were around 77,000 more rounds in 2020 compared to 2019. That’s a sky rocketing increase."

It was an increase that was typical of what happened across the Island last year during the pandemic as people flocked to one of the few activities that was allowed by the state and one with social distancing built in. Tee sheets filled up in an instant, a week in advance or more. And that trend isn't showing any signs of slowing down as the season opens up.

"We are expecting the same golf activity as we saw last year. We believe the demand will still be strong," Gorman said. "Many people are working from home and while business and activities are opening up, golfers have come back and they are enjoying a healthy outdoor experience that quite frankly they had forgotten about. Now they are back."

Jimmy Conway, director of golf at Pine Hills, couldn’t remember being so happy after starting the year being so dejected.

"We had a banner year and it wasn’t so much that we did so much more play because I kept the 10- and 12-minute intervals going all year," Conway said. "For the first time we saw four-hour rounds being played on weekends. That brought joy to a lot of people’s games. A tee time on Saturday wasn’t so bad anymore. People had been dejected coming out here, knowing what was in store for them. I just saw people happier, considering there was such devastation with this pandemic, but this was one of their places of sanity. Golf became became a main staple for these guys."

And for Conway, it was about reconnecting with the players.

"Last year was great for getting me out of the office and back out there to see the customers," he said. "For our facility and for me it was probably my most gratifying year, being able to provide a service for people who in any other case had nothing else to do."

It’s clear to most in the business that the pandemic brought more than just the regulars out to the course. New faces, young faces were in abundance.

"I saw more young millennials who never played before that may have been working from home, getting a stimulus check, getting clubs and coming out a few times a week because they really didn’t have anything to do," Conway said. "A lot of them ended up staying with it."

"We are hoping that enthusiasm, new people getting into the game, people getting back in who hadn’t played for a long time, families getting back into the game, hopefully that will carry over," said Bob Posillico, head pro at Eisenhower Park. "Saw a lot more families, dads with their kids. You didn’t see so much a college kid or high school kid with his dad coming to the range to hit balls. Saw a lot more of that last year. They were stuck in the house together, kids weren’t going out with their friends, so hey ‘Dad, let’s go hit a bucket of balls.’ We saw a lot more of that."

Private clubs saw a significant uptick in business.

"Last year, in summary, was a banner year," said Meg O’Connor, general manager of the iconic Nassau Country Club.

"We went from 17,000 rounds in 2019 to this year 22,000 rounds," said O’Connor, who said the club took in about 30 new members. "That is with this past year only having 600 outing rounds and the prior year having 1,600 outing rounds."

The outing business took a severe hit last year, which meant a lot of charities took a big hit as well. It looks as if that aspect of the game has a chance to return with some strength.

"We’re telling everybody that it’s back to normal," said Henry Kilroy, head pro at Smithtown Landing. "All of our outings are pretty much booked as to the amount we have done in the past."

"Last year I went in with a total blindfold on. Never knowing what to expect, dealing with the day-to-day changes in society," said Ron Wright, head pro at Middle Bay Country Club. "The way the phones are ringing and the interest levels that are peaking once you hit that 55-degree mark, we have to be ready as if tomorrow was July 4th weekend."

ACES

James Tourin, Sumpwam’s Creek No. 8, 95 yards, 60-degree wedge

Luke Birnbaum, Colonial Springs CC, Pines No. 3, 147 yards, 9 iron.

Mark Zink, Douglaston GC, No. 5, 108 yards, pitching wedge

Aces and other golf news can be sent to jeff.williams@newsday.com. Aces can also be sent to sportsdesk@newsday.com

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