Here comes the year of the silver lining.
Golf instructors have their own version of the 2021 comeback, with business rebounding sharply from the pandemic-marred 2020.
In the case of Northfield instructor Bruce Chelucci, it’s an extension of the social-distancing era.
Chelucci, who runs the New Jersey Academy of Golf at Blue Heron Pines in Galloway Township, has seen the pandemic’s residue form a new business realm.
“Private lessons have grown tremendously,” he says. “I had no idea how much people would like them. At the beginning of the pandemic, we couldn’t do anything, and then when we were allowed to resume instruction, it could only be one student at a time.
“When things began returning to normal, customers had the option of signing up in groups or taking a private lesson. Many are taking the private lesson. Before COVID, I would say the private lessons were about 50-50 in terms of business. Now it’s about 75 percent private.”
Chelucci still teaches a clinic of more than 60 students on Saturdays, with ages running from 7 to 17, at Blue Heron Pines. On Sundays and Mondays, those students play nine holes at the course. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he teaches private clinics of a few people at Blue Heron Pines.
But the one-on-one lesson has grown in importance.
Covid — whether because of the boredom forcing people to seek a safe outdoor activity or by enabling the funding to let them offset work stoppages — created a new customer branch within a resurgent industry.
“Golf is bananas right now. Look at what the courses are charging (significantly up from last year in many cases), and the players can’t get tee times fast enough. You can’t be any busier than booked,” he laughs, a principle that applies both to himself and many area establishments.
But even someone who is booked somehow finds room for more. Chelucci can be reached at 609-703-4658 or at NewJerseyAcademyOfGolf.com.
Chelucci conducts lessons individually at Blue Heron Pines. Most last one hour. Some players want an introduction to the game from the ground up. Others want to correct a specific problem.
The lesson includes swing analysis, filming, drills, putting and a 15-minute portion on the short game. Customers work on certain elements from the lesson before the next session.
When COVID hit, it looked like the next lesson might be light years away. So, he took an altruistic detour.
Chelucci contacted Reed’s Farm in Egg Harbor Township and wound up cutting down tall grass to create an informal driving range and putting green. About 30 students used the facility, free of charge, for several months.
Teaching pros and students donated approximately 5,000 balls, many from renowned Pine Valley, he says. The driving range was a creative morale boost for local golfers.
“The biggest lesson for me in this was realizing that anything can be taken away immediately,” Chelucci says. “You can spend your whole life being involved with golf and being able to teach it and then you wake up one day and you can’t. When COVID came, I figured, ‘What else are you going to do?’.”
Owner Bob Reed appreciates the time Chelucci spent, mowing the grass a couple times a week, a couple hours at a time. Chelucci’s involvement spanned about six months, running until September.
“He did a beautiful job,” Reed says. “Every third day he cut the grass with a special mower, and then he manicured it, tried different things and really made it look great. I was really sorry to see him go. Bruce is a nice guy, and a very good golf instructor. He takes his time with people, he’s very good with the kids.”
It is impossible for someone not to have their game enriched by a lesson. And players of all levels use instructors as coaches. One of Chelucci’s students is Joanna Coe, the Mays Landing native who became an LPGA touring professional … and now a teacher. Coe won the inaugural Women’s PGA Professional Player of the year, awarded by the PGA, in 2019.