“Golf is a cooler sport than when you and I were younger,” said Greg Towne, coach of the Indiana State University women’s golf team. It also operates the public golf courses of Terre Haute, Hulman Links and Rea Park.

COVID-19 may have created untold havoc for many people and businesses, but it was a godsend for public golf courses in the Wabash Valley. During the 2020 pandemic, being outside was generally considered a safer bet than being locked inside. As a result, public golf courses in Terre Haute experienced a peak in use and growth was steady until 2021.

According to Mayor Duke Bennett, in 2020, approximately 37,430 people played rounds on the courses. This year the number was 40,313 as of mid-October. “It’s encouraging that we’ve had two consecutive years of significant growth,” Bennett said.

Rays on Rea: Logan Vernon, a junior at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Bloomington, is working on his game Tuesday under sunny skies in Rea Park. Vernon, 21, plays on the college men’s team Tribune-Star / Joseph C. Garza

And course income reflects a significant increase since before the pandemic. “In 2019 at Hulman Links we raised $ 361,727, in 2020 we received $ 427,577, so far this year it’s $ 437,852,” Bennett said. “At Rea Park we have raised $ 377,691 in 19,483,492 in 2020 and $ 490,000 so far this year.

Illinois has closed its golf courses during the pandemic, but Terre Haute has seen few or no golfers fall ill. “I was worried at first, but it probably helped people with their mental health too,” Towne said.

That said, Hulman Links is the only city budget line with over 100 different positions that is in deficit, and Rea Park has a negative cash balance. Rea Park’s budget has been balanced, with revenues exceeding next year’s expenses for the first time, which will eventually pay off its past deficit.

Hulman Links is a more expensive course to maintain as it is larger and has more slopes and water hazards than Rea Park, which is relatively flat. There were also a lot of trees that needed to be removed to improve the lines of the land – around 2,000 trees were removed this year. It also has more sophisticated golf carts with GPS units.

“Rea Park is a perfect course for people who don’t want a big experience,” Bennett said. “Hulman Links is a whole different experience, more for this serious, serious golfer. People who like to play a more difficult course are more drawn to it than Rea Park.

“Hulman Links has always been a class act within the state, and we want to get back to the point where these big tournaments come back to Terre Haute,” Bennett added. “People travel around the state – and they play Hulman Links. People say, “Dude, you gotta play Hulman Links.” People expect a higher standard there.

This is reflected in the course link fees. To play 18 holes at Rea Park costs $ 21 on weekdays and $ 23 on weekends, while Hulman Links charges $ 29 on weekdays and $ 30 on weekends to play.

Classes in town have seen their number increase since the pandemic

Tribune-Star / Joseph C. Garza An excellent course to play: Golfers Chuck Moseman, Lee Lohman and Max Helton complete a round on Tuesday at Hulman Links.

Five years ago zoysia grass was installed at Hulman Links and now fills the entire course. Zoysia grass requires a lot less chemicals and doesn’t monopolize water like Bermuda grass – the greens need to be watered, but the fairways don’t.

“We intentionally planted it – it’s really solid,” Bennett said. “He’s much more tolerant of heat and dry weather. This investment is paying off. Water bills at the courtyards are only about $ 3,000 per year.

Bennett cut back on courts’ budgets by shifting their maintenance workers to the city’s parks and recreation budget. “It never really made sense why the maintenance staff was in these budgets – the parks department has all the maintenance workers we assign to parks, and golf courses are parks,” he said. he declared.

Initially, the parks department could not carry this weight, but the improvement in the city’s economic situation allowed it to do so. Course budgets now only pay for the staff who run the courses themselves and the food service program at Hulman Links. “It’s a better comparison of apples to apples,” Bennett said.

Otherwise, there is not much to reduce in these budgets. “We’ve hacked, downsized and downsized, we’ve been smarter in some of our purchases, but $ 900,000 in revenue for two courses – I’m pretty happy with that,” Bennett said.

Bennett expects the owner of the new casino to help balance Hulman Links’ budget. “We’re going to sit down with the casino owner and develop some sort of agreement – whether he pays us per golfer or pays us a lump sum and he has all the access he wants,” he said. he declared. “I have spoken to different casinos in other communities and they do it in different ways.”

The city’s First Tee program also introduces Vigo County students to the sport with the aim of increasing the number of local golfers. “If a few thousand see the game in gym class, a few hundred will want to play on a green on a course,” Towne said.

“The experience has to be good for people to want to come back and tell others to play,” Bennett said. “This is the key.”

David Kronke can be reached at 812-231-4232 or [email protected]