WEATHER A BOGEY MAN
On top of all their existing problems, Philly-area golf course operators have had to deal with horrendous weather in 2011.
WEATHER A BOGEY MAN
Frank Fitzpatrick, Inquirer Sports Columnist
For the local golf industry, when it rains, it pours.
A season of foul weather and flooded courses has added more storm clouds to what already was a gloomy forecast for local course operators.
Nationwide, the pool of golfers continued to evaporate. According to a recent National Golf Foundation study, there were 1 million fewer golfers in 2010 than 2009, a decline from 27.1 million to 26.1 million. In 2005, by way of comparison, there 30 million golfers. (The study defined a "golfer" as anyone over 6 who played at least one round a year.)
While those numbers can be blamed on the stagnant economy and high unemployment rate as much as on any dissatisfaction with the sport, they're still disturbing.
The ongoing slippage in players and play already has resulted in the closing or neglect of many of the upper-end daily-fee courses that were constructed in the boom '90s.
So in this already troubled golf environment, the weird 2011 weather hasn't done any favors for the struggling operators.
Lingering snow and considerable spring rain made play virtually impossible for the first several months. Then came a dry spell and high mid-day temperatures that discouraged play in those otherwise popular hours.
" I remember one Friday in late July when there was no one on the course from 10 am to 2 pm, due to the extreme heat," said one local golf pro.
Next came Hurricane Irene and the heavy rains that followed. Finally, last weekend, a rare October snowfall blanketed the area and wiped out nearly a week of golf.
"I think it was the first time I ever mowed my lawn, played golf and shoveled snow in the same week, without leaving home," the pro said.
Whitemarsh Valley Country Club closed for the season in September because several holes were under water. White Clay Creek, the upscale layout adjacent to the Delaware Park race track-casino complex, had to shut down for more than 30 days until rain-damaged bunkers and greens could be restored.
According to the pro, play at his Montgonmery County course was down between 12 and 15 percent from 2010, which wasn't all that great a year to begin with.
The NGF study found that 475 million rounds were played in 2010, a decline of 2.3 percent from the previous year. There were 518 million rounds played in 2000..
And even when the courses were open and playable, cart path-only restrictions were often in place, which discouraged seniors, who make up the bulk of golfers at many area public courses.
This trend continues to take a toll. Island Green CC in Northeast Philly shut down. Center Valley CC near Allentown closed last month. Several other courses are in trouble.
With the decreased play, of course, comes decreased pro-shop sales and decreased restaurant and snack-bar visits.
Curiously, as depressing as this might be for course operators, it's had a beneficial impact on local golfers.
All the remaining courses in the heavily saturated Philadelphia area are competing for a shrinking pool of golfers, which keeps the cost of a round low.