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On the upswing: Pandemic shutdowns caused many to discover golf for the first time

Pandemic restrictions caused a big boom in the golf industry.

LORTON, Va. — So many activities became virtually off-limits when the pandemic started. Safety measures meant cutting out the gym and other indoor group exercise programs, as well as outdoor team sports. One sport that's still standing is golf.

Jon Eisman, named one of Virginia's best golf teachers by Golf Digest, has been focused on instruction for more than 20 years, after working his way up to being a local PGA professional.

"This is almost the biggest boom we've seen," Eisman said.

Eisman owns Eisman Golf Academy, which operates two courses in Northern Virginia -- Laurel Hill and Twin Lakes. The first big boom he saw came in the '90s with the emergence of Tiger Woods.

"It was cool. He made it a different sport. It wasn't the privileged type of sport," Eisman said.

But a quarter of a century later, the pandemic shutdown caused a different kind of spike. According to the National Golf Foundation, more than 3 million new golfers nationwide hit the course for the very first time. 

"Our business was up almost 300% in that time period. A huge growth in junior golfers, women getting out to play and getting into the game, and more families," Eisman said. "We don't think it's going to go anywhere."

Each golfer has a story.

Anthony Bradsure first picked up clubs as a teen and got back on the course in his mid-20s. 

"I found the sport, didn't love it as much, found it again and now I can't stop playing," Bradsure said. "I play pretty much every day."

Owen Taylor, 18, dropped baseball and found another sport to love. Now he hopes to play on a college golf team. 

One of Eisman's longtime students, Rylan Shim, calls golf his sanctuary in the pandemic.

"When everything else was closed down, I knew I had a spot here at Laurel that I could come and practice and hang out with people," Shim said.

Now Shim has a bright future ahead of him as he heads for the University of Florida on a golf scholarship. He's thrilled about the growth in his sport.

"I've made so many great relationships with people I probably would never have made except through golf. I think it's awesome and everybody should be able to have that opportunity," Shim said.

So many people who discovered golf during the pandemic have stuck with it. That has Eisman hiring more help and expanding his instruction studios.

"We are expanding to a studio right next door. So it’s going to be 2,600 square feet, we’ll have two indoor bays, nice big players’ lounge area with video conferencing in there, all the tech we’re going to put in there, so I think really people are getting even deeper into lessons," Eisman explained.

Eisman says the philosophy of golf instruction has done a 180, from learning to do things a certain way, to learning which movements work best for your body.

If you haven't taken a swing at golf yet, Eisman makes one key point:

"No one is a terrible golfer. I think it's a matter of your learning curve and your learning process and having the time to really get out there and do it."

Many are getting out there and doing it. In fact, not only are courses booked solid for weeks out, equipment sales are surging. Eisman says people are waiting at least six months for golf clubs. Manufacturers have told him it's been the craziest time trying to meet demand with their supply challenges.

Eisman plans for the new boom in business to be his new norm, and the golf industry appears to feel the same way.

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