PGA Head Professional Mike Mendelson at Elkhorn Ridge Golf Club located in Spearfish, South Dakota, turned the pandemic into opportunities for the course and the community in 2020. Even though South Dakota didn’t have the same level of shutdowns and mask mandates that Colorado enforced, there were similar times of uncertainty as schools closed, jobs were in question and people looked for normalcy. County and municipal restrictions on gatherings and occupancy affected local businesses.

In late March of 2020, Mendelson took note of the nearby community, Rapid City, school district closures. With the children in mind, he wanted to help families affected by the school lunches no longer being available. He sought out ways to serve and learned of an opportunity to help make and transport brown bag lunches to those in need. The community rallied together for this common cause and Mendelson helped for two weeks until the school district was operational again.

Also, in the area, Deadwood casinos faced shutdowns. This historic industry was shut down the longest. Many food and beverage service, dealers and casino employees were without work. Several annual pass holders to Elkhorn Ridge G.C. temporarily “lost” their jobs and faced unemployment. Mendelson and his staff offered a modified payment plan to allow their customers the opportunity to still become members. “We’re in this together,” commented Mendelson. “We looked for ways to make it work for everyone. We have many customers who work in Deadwood at the casinos. I feel it created a great deal of appreciation from these customers.”

Allowing extended terms to annual members was showing flexibility and it paid off. All those offered modified payment plans followed through. Not only did this provide goodwill to the community, but it also increased rounds played. While they were out of work, these members could find ‘normalcy’ in playing golf, which eliminated some of their stresses. Mendelson remarked, “We are only as good as what we can offer customers, and if we don’t have customers, we would have no rounds or revenue increases.”

Tourism was promoted in South Dakota as it was advertised as a more open State (and still is in 2021). Like other areas of the country, people flocked to the course as an outside activity, but even more so with the tourism promotion. Elkhorn Ridge still followed the Back2Golf Guidelines recommended by the PGA of America though the State was not enforcing restrictions. Mendelson noticed tourists found comfort when they saw Elkhorn Ridge followed similar safety measures at their facility as ones being practiced in other areas of the country.

“I am fortunate and happy to report that we had the best year ever at Elkhorn Ridge Golf Club. Our rounds increased from 12,000 annually to 16,000 in 2020. Greens fee revenue soared by an increase of 24% and shop sales were up 12%, despite running out of Titleist Golf Balls for a good chunk of July.” Mendelson attributes their success to implementing practices set forth by the PGA, USGA and Section best practices.

An exciting idea finally came to fruition for the staff at Elkhorn Ridge when in 2020 they turned the Range into a par-three course on Monday afternoons and evenings. This was a pre-pandemic concept, but it worked out great during COVID. The regular course has been difficult for youth and beginner golfers, but this new short course brought in new people seeking outdoor activities as a family. It was a novice golf course with holes ranging from 50 to 120 yards and was located by the on-site open-air restaurant.

The Monday events began in June and the first few weeks had sparse participation. The maintenance staff clean-picked the range and then mowed it for the afternoon set up. They had target greens on the range with flagsticks in larger diameter holes. This rustic application to set up a par-three gained traction in the community and even caught the eyes of a Little League team family who lives on the course. As a team, they came out for their end of season celebration and the kids had a blast. The family nights went through August, right about the time kids went back to school.

The open-air restaurant near the Range par-three course allowed for additional family activity and was also noted by the public. One of the parents from the Monday family nights emailed the club and stated, “Lots of the families had not been out and seen Miller Creek Pub. It was great! Great food and the kids had a ton of fun on the putting green and the family course! We are very lucky to be members here!”

In addition to growing the game for the community, the staff at the facility really bonded as they came together with creative minds to build the course. Elkhorn Ridge has every intention of doing this again in 2021 and has a plan in place to introduce PGA Jr. League, which had been difficult to launch previously.

A Member of the Colorado Section since 2000 and former Colorado PGA West Chapter President, Mendelson moved to South Dakota three years ago. His wife, Julie, and their two children (ages five and three) joined along one Monday evening, which he feels very fortunate to have done together. “My family is everything,” he commented. This heart for family extends well beyond his own home and benefits his facility and the community, growing the game and impacting others.