Golf is booming in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ken Kirchhofer has the numbers to prove it.

“The Atascocita Golf Club originally budgeted for 40,000 rounds of golf to be played during this year. We’ve already hit more than 48,000 rounds with two more months to go,” said Kirchhofer, who is the club’s operations manager. “We’ve been so blessed.”

Kirchhofer credits his network of PGA pros throughout Texas and the United States. In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, he was on the phone with other pros discussing what was working and what to avoid.

“I can truthfully say it wasn’t ‘trial by error’ because everything we tried worked,” Kirchhofer said.

Kirchhofer also acknowledges his club team during what has been a stressful time, especially PGA Head Pro Jeremy Davis and Food and Beverage Director Amanda Duncan. They were a sounding board in the early days of the pandemic, discussing how to resolve the challenges they faced.

“The safety of our golfers and our staff was top priority,” said Davis. “We wanted to ensure we were doing all we could to accommodate and follow all of the new and changing guidelines.”

The clubhouse was closed while all 27 holes remained open for play. The bunker rakes, water coolers and ball washers were removed. Masks are required to enter the pro shop and use the restrooms and groups are not allowed to congregate. And the club no longer provides self-serve food or beverages.

Instead, Kirchhofer and his team installed a pop-up kiosk for check-in and a mobile pro shop allowing members to make purchases outside on the patio.

“We upgraded our food and beverage options,” said Davis, “partnering with Spindletap Brewery and Kingwood Taco Shop to provide coffee, craft beer and options for breakfast tacos.”   

Keeping golfers safe, being creative pays off -

Kirchhofer and his team are particularly proud that they have had zero health issues at the club. Once a week, Dry Earth One, a family-owned cleaning business based in Huffman, disinfects club equipment.

“Some may think it is overkill, but we felt, in addition to all of the safety procedures we were instituting, that we also needed to do something extraordinary to keep everything and everyone safe,” he said.

What do members and staff think of all the changes?

“Honestly, after that first week, all the changes we made became the new normal,” said Kirchhofer.

“New ways of doing things are always stressful, but the club has been impacted in a good way,” said Duncan. “Overall, sales are up 15% and membership has increased 20%.”

Davis agreed, “We increased our golf cart fleet by 10% to accommodate the number of golfers riding alone,” and Duncan said, “We purchased push carts to encourage more players to walk.”   

And, because business is booming, the club workforce has increased.

“I’m especially proud that we have young people from area high schools in Humble ISD working for us,” said Kirchhofer. “My members often talk about the two or three young people in their families. I have 18 young people that we are responsible for.”

The club’s short-term goal, according to Duncan, is to keep doing what they do best by providing a great golf experience while keeping staff and golfers safe. Long term, club members will eventually see a new fleet of carts as well as new greens on the Shores Course.

Before COVID-19, the club hosted several charity events for breast-cancer prevention, veterans’ relief, retired police organizations and children’s benefits.

“All corporate and charity events were canceled,” said Duncan, “but we’re looking for 2021 to be a big year.”

Kirchhofer expects 2021 to be “big,” too. He has a few plans up his sleeve that cannot be revealed yet, including a memorial that will honor the 40 young men and women from Texas Congressional District 2 killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many people have cut back on vacations and airline travel. Bars are closed or restricted. There are few spectator sports to watch in person. In spite of this, former golfers are returning to the game and Lake Houston residents have discovered that golf can be a lifetime family event.

“Golf has exploded worldwide. This is the game that gets people out of their homes. I am a big believer that golf makes people’s lives better by reducing anxiety, lowering stress and proving some much-needed safe social interaction. Golf is good for our mental health,” Kirchhofer said. “We have been blessed to be open so that our employees can continue to work and our golfers can enjoy the game.”

To become a member of the club or for more information about the courses, call 281-812-6243 or visit atascocitagolfclub.com.

Tom Broad
Author: Tom BroadEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Columnist
Besides being a proud graduate of The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, therefore, a Cornhusker, I am retired from Memorial Hermann. I am a correspondent and columnist for Lake Houston's hometown paper, The Tribune, as well as a director of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Corporation, a member of the board of the Humble Area Assistance Ministries, and Volunteer Extraordinaire for the Lake Houston Area Chamber.

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