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University of Iowa Hall of Fame golfer Sean McCarty has qualified for three major championships and played in 11 PGA Tour events overall during a nearly three-decade pro career. However, the 11-time Iowa PGA Section Player of the Year felt a bit unprepared for an end-of-October appearance in the PGA Senior Professional National Championship in Florida. “I can’t even get on my own golf course anymore to practice,” laughed Mr. McCarty, director of golf at Brown Deer Golf Club in Coralville. “Honestly, I’ve been out there only three to four times this year.” The 51-year-old West Branch native’s game has been the unfortunate victim of a golf explosion that courses across Eastern Iowa have seen since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. “Golf was one of the few things you could do with friends and still be socially distanced,” recalled Jon Waddell, the longtime head professional at Palmer Hills in Bettendorf. “That really brought a lot of people back to the game that maybe had left – and also introduced tons of new people to golf. We were just fortunate to be in an industry that benefited from COVID – similar to biking and camping and fishing and anything outdoors.” The numbers are staggering, according to Dave Roe, the superintendent of golf operations for the City of Cedar Rapids. While the three 18-hole city courses under Mr. Roe’s purview averaged a combined 80,000-85,000 rounds before the pandemic in a typical year, the figure has ballooned to around 120,000 rounds combined in the fiscal year completed in June. Just from fiscal year 2021-2022 to fiscal year 2022-2023, he added, the number of total rounds increased by 20,000. “And it’s still growing,” said Mr. Roe, who oversees Ellis, Gardner and Twin Pines golf courses. “Each month since July in this new year so far has been bigger than the same month last year.” Mr. McCarty said with decent weather expected to allow golfers to play in November and early December, Brown Deer anticipates being close to 36,000 rounds by the end of this calendar year. That is an increase of roughly 10,000 rounds, he said, from a pre-COVID year. “We’re poised to do close to 40,000 rounds this year – and that’s a number that we’ve never done before in all my years here,” added Mr. Waddell, who celebrated his 28th anniversary in June as Palmer’s head pro. “Pre-pandemic you could pretty safely call the morning of and get a tee time that afternoon – but certainly you want to plan farther ahead these days,” he said. “The prime times are pretty tough. The mornings from our first tee time until 11 a.m. – those book out probably three days in advance. Same with the weekends.” Similar conditions are reported at other Quad Cities courses including Red Hawk Golf & Learning Center – which is unique among Davenport’s three public courses because it is a nine-hole facility, and it does not take tee times – with a focus on being a great place to start playing golf. “It’s finally been slowing down for us since the high school boys’ golf season ended” (on Oct. 7), said Red Hawk’s Head Pro Brant McGivern. “But there have been some Sundays where we were out of carts starting at 10:30 a.m., so you would get done playing your nine holes and somebody is standing there waiting for your cart. “May’s numbers were up 50% – no rainouts had something to do with that – but we’re up about 30% on the year overall and that’s a lot.”