Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Growing the Game of Golf: Creative Ideas for the Next Generation

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Growing the Game of Golf: Creative Ideas for the Next Generation

Article excerpt

A declining population, aging community and low average household income present ongoing challenges for Illinois' Decatur Park District (DPD) golf system. Five thriving public courses in the 1980s and 1990s were based on an average population of almost 90,000 people. Since that time, Decatur's population has dropped 20 percent and several major employers have left the community, affecting the local economy. Furthermore, 111 golf courses, all doing their best to entice a dwindling number of players, lie within a two-hour radius. While these statistics paint a difficult local operational picture, golf participation and frequency of play at the national level have also declined significantly. According to the National Golf Foundation, golf course closings in 2014 outpaced openings for the ninth consecutive year. In fact, nine public courses closed in Illinois in 2014 and zero new courses opened.

For the past decade, DPD has attempted to proactively respond to our ever-evolving golf market. In an effort to right-size the system and attract new golfers, DPD reduced golf staff from 27 employees to 12, decreased pro shop inventory 87 percent, cut chemical costs by 13 percent and reduced the number of holes by closing a languishing 18-hole course (Nelson Park) and converting a small, nine-hole course (Wildwood) to a prairie-style signature course--Red Tail Run Golf Club by Raymond Floyd--which has attracted 26,000 rounds per year since its opening in 2006. With three public courses in operation today, DPD continues to feel the strain of local and national shifts in sporting interests, available free time and disposable income. Over the years, however, an enormous investment has been made to create and maintain high-quality, attractive facilities. DPD's three golf hubs, Hickory Point, Scovill and Red Tail Run, are award-winning courses that have attracted several national and state tournaments.

To make the most of these facilities, DPD realized a need to modify the traditions of the game to fit today's demographic, establishing at each golf course a more comprehensive entertainment venue. In 2015, creative offerings to encourage play included a short course, hack golf and fling golf at Scovill Golf Course, all promoted as the "Scovill Shake Up." The nine-hole, par three short course was designed for beginners, juniors, seniors--anyone looking for shorter distances and faster play. The course was developed within the existing 18-hole golf course, with all holes between 90 and 185 yards. A reasonable $9 fee appealed to even the most frugal individuals. Hack Golf, with 15-inch holes and relaxed rules, was installed seamlessly and at little expense. Fling golf, a combination of lacrosse and golf, created a uniquely athletic experience on the golf course. Finally, to boost participation among young professionals, "Nine after 5" was also developed, with advertising containing a bit of "swag." "If you don't know the first thing about golf, if you're not that good, or you haven't played in years," the commercial says, "come hang out at Scovill on Thursday nights ... and play just a little bit of golf." For just $20, participants golfed nine holes with cart and enjoyed appetizers, tips from the pros and a coupon for an adult beverage. …

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