Operator Stories

Michigan’s Shanty Creek Resorts bounces back

Forecasting budgets for 2021 is no exact science, given the uncertainty surrounding the economy and the coronavirus pandemic, but Mike Mooney, Director of Golf & Club at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire, Mich., can’t help but feel optimistic about the future.

Mooney and his staff have learned a lot during the ups and downs of the pandemic in 2020, which entailed a state-mandated closure from March through April followed by a boom of business from June through October. Long-term, the bumpy ride may have been worth it.

“I am forecasting an 8 percent increase in rounds in 2021,” Mooney said. “We will get the rounds back in early May and June that we lost due to the pandemic and hope to hang on to the rest of the rounds captured during a busy summer and fall. We are feeling more optimistic. There will be a vaccine. People will be ready to be get out (and travel). I’ve talked to others in the area, and they feel the same way, too.”

Considering the dread Mooney felt during the early days of the pandemic when he was forced to close the resort, including its golf courses, business in 2020 turned out pretty well. Shanty Creek was able to reopen all four courses, although its pools remained closed and restaurants operated with limitations to account for safety. “All the courses pretty much finished on what were their budgeted rounds for the season. A couple were up significantly, up to 10 percent from 2019,” he said.

Despite a closure early on, mask requirements and a limit to how many people could be in the pro shop at one time, merchandise sales for Shanty Creek ended up five percent above 2019. All of this was achieved while the hotel and courses were limiting occupancy and capacity to 75 percent.

Mooney said the region benefited from low COVID-19 case counts for much of the year. With the international borders closed, Canadians were missed, but the resort’s traditional drive-in market still attracted people from lower Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and the Chicago area.

“The pandemic did teach us some things,” Mooney said. “We learned about our guests and where they are coming from, and what they want to do when they’re here.” He said they were cautious with their tee sheets, being careful not to handle too big of a load but still handling a lot.

“We feel like it was a good year, and we managed it very well,” Mooney said. “As a golf pro looking at the big picture, we saw a lot of people that were either golfers who haven’t played in a while or people new coming into the sport. They got out and played, and now our challenge in the industry is to keep these people engaged and get them to play more golf.”

Technology also helped Shanty Creek throughout 2020. Mooney said social media and e-mail communications allowed the resort to stay in touch with customers as rules and protocols changed. Online booking through GolfNow helped the resort target golfers for more return play after their original visit. Mooney even believes that some COVID-19 protocols might stick around permanently – notably the ball retrieval system connected to the flags and the removal of bunker rakes. “They speed up play,” he said.