Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Some Signs Point to Health in Golf Business

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Some Signs Point to Health in Golf Business

Article excerpt

The complaints seem to be everywhere, the signs way too ominous.

Golf is in a decline. Participation is down and courses are closing. The game is too expensive and takes too much time to play. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy had to go find new equipment because Nike stopped making clubs. New courses are sprouting about as often as day lilies in the desert.

The game is spiraling downward, perhaps even stuck in a black hole, the detractors claim.

Perhaps.

But, while those factors are indeed evident, they don't seem to accurately reflect what is going on with the game and the people who play it.

Sure, courses have been closing and participation is not at the high-water mark the game enjoyed in the early 1990s when new courses were mushrooming in Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. But what has happened is courses are now seeing a return to the level the game enjoyed before the 1990s explosion, with rounds slowly on the increase and people enjoying golf on and, yes, off the course.

"We've really been holding steady with rounds the past couple years," said Travis Lindsay, owner of Birdsfoot Golf Club in Freeport. "And people seem to buying more additional things when they're here, spending more money and hanging around longer. I notice they're less sensitive and we don't have to do as much to entice people to come."

Birdsfoot had 32,041 rounds in 2017, slightly fewer than the previous year when the course did 32,428 rounds. But Lindsay said they had their best year financially because they didn't have to discount their rounds to get people to play. Birdsfoot's best year for participation was 2015 when they had 33,842 rounds, but that was when the club used the GolfNow online booking agency that bartered rounds and offered drastically reduced prices.

Birdsfoot highest rate is $59 on weekends, but they offer lower prices and online specials during the week.

"Not only were they getting those trade rounds, but everyone was looking at golf as a commodity and not at a particular experience they were getting," Lindsay said. "If you can give golfers a good experience, they're willing to pay for it through good conditions and a nice layout. It's exciting to play here. We've seen that response in the past couple years."

Olde Stonewall Golf Club in Ellwood City charges the highest greens fee for a non-resort course in Western Pennsylvania -$75 to $100 per round out of season, $150 in-season (May 1-Oct. 5) -but golf professional Sean Swidzinski said participation has been on the increase the past five years. Olde Stonewall had approximately 16,500 rounds in 2017.

"At least from our small segment in what we do, we're seeing the game definitely growing," Swidzinski said. "Where we're seeing a big portion of growth is with the young players. Our junior clinics and family memberships continue to grow. …

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