State of golf in the rough, near and far

Filed under: Photo,Print,Sports | Tags:, , ,
Ray Robinson tees off at Patty Jewett Golf Course while Dawson Davis, middle, and Cory Everson look on.

Ray Robinson tees off at Patty Jewett Golf Course while Dawson Davis, middle, and Cory Everson look on.

Jack Nicklaus once said, “Golf is not, and never has been, a fair game.”

Those who have owned or operated a golf course know this better than anyone. 

The northern portions of El Paso County have seen the comings and goings of several courses over a relatively short period of time.

Monument Hill Country Club (formerly Woodmoor) recently opened its greens to members and the general public after closing rumors for the 2013 season due to water costs. King’s Deer Golf Club in Monument reopened after a rollercoaster three-month closure. And, the future of the 18 holes that made up Gleneagle Golf Club has never been more uncertain.

Reasons for dwindling business range from watering costs to a disappearance of paying customers. But the closures and uncertainties may foretell of a greater crisis for the golf industry.

A Golf Digest article in June 2013 states: “Golfers are 15 percent fewer than six years ago, down more than 4 million players, and industry efforts to make the game more attractive to newcomers seem to be treading water, at best. Millions try the game each year, but their retention barely makes up for the loss of players elsewhere. We number fewer avid players (25 rounds or more) than we did in 1985, almost a third fewer than a decade ago — important because those players account for 70 percent of industry spending.” 

That trend has taken hold locally, according to Dal Lockwood, golf manager for the City of Colorado Springs. Lockwood, who oversees golf operations at both Patty Jewett and Valley Hi municipal golf courses, has seen a significant drop in player participation during his 25 years of experience.

“I’ve seen a reduction of at least 25 percent,” Lockwood said. “That’s the state of golf everywhere; not just Colorado Springs or municipal golf courses.”

According to Lockwood, all courses, municipal or private, have to contend with weakening interest.

“A lot of folks are choosing things that don’t cost as much or take as much time,” he said. “People now want immediate gratification. … Gas has been over $3 for a long time. It seems we have accepted that and the cost of groceries. There’s not a lot of discretionary spending at the end of the month or week to do what golf costs.”

The long drive to the Patty Jewett clubhouse has seen less traffic due to dwindling business. Rounds have decreased by approximately 25,000 over the past decade. Increased costs and overall time commitment may be to blame.

The long drive to the Patty Jewett clubhouse has seen less traffic due to dwindling business. Rounds have decreased by approximately 25,000 over the past decade. Increased costs and overall time commitment may be to blame.

Lockwood said Patty Jewett had 170,000 nine-hole rounds a quarter-century ago, with Valley Hi bringing in 85,000 rounds of nine-hole golf.

Last year, Patty Jewett registered 107,000 rounds, and Valley Hi recorded 53,000 rounds.

“Now, last year was an extra-bad weather and conditions year,” Lockwood said. “In 2012, we had a good-weather year and recorded 123,000 nine-hole rounds at Patty Jewett and 65,455 at Valley Hi.”

Lockwood said there have been many tweaks to local municipal courses in attempts to increase interest and speed up the game.

“Part of our master plan a number of years ago was removing gender from all tees,” he said. “There isn’t a men’s, women’s and championship tee anymore. There’s a forward and back tee. Older men, younger men, beginning men were not going to be seen playing from the women’s tee. Not everyone enjoys or employs [the closer tees] and they are still playing beyond their golfing ability.”

Lockwood said design changes have made a round of golf faster, but not necessarily easier.

“You still have to comply with the rules of golf,” he said.

Dwindling numbers
(Rounds for Patty Jewett and Valley Hi golf courses)

Patty Jewett

Valley Hi

2013

107,706

53,309

2012

123,091

65,455

2011

111,236

61,775

2010

115,961

62,850

2009

120,484

68,226

2008

127,350

74,955

2007

127,242

73,828

2006

130,343

73,187

2005

130,801

71,108

2004

132,203

73,767

Some attribute golf’s decline to the lack of a star like Tiger Woods, who at his marketable prime in the 2000s attracted the highest viewership ever in pro golf. His appeal brought masses of casual and not-so-casual players to their local courses.

According to a 2010 ESPN study, there were 21 instances from January 2007 through December 2009 when golf telecasts drew high Nielsen ratings, and Woods was involved in every one. Additionally, prior to 2010, of NBC’s 20 highest-rated golf broadcasts since 2007, 19 featured Woods.

The highest-rated non-Tiger event on NBC then, the study found, “had less than half the viewership of their highest-rated event with Tiger.” 

Yet, Lockwood doesn’t buy into a single celebrity driving the sport’s popularity, saying, “There are still lots of national figures to look up to and say that you want to play like him or her.”

In addition, Lockwood said because the golf industry did not abide by laws of supply and demand, courses are now reaping what excessive development had sown over the past decade. 

“This industry overbuilt itself a long time ago,” he said. “Developers thought ‘Golf is good’ and kept firing away with new courses. Then the economy took its toll and it shows.

“People in the industry thought there’d be Baby Boomers coming to the game by the bucket load,” Lockwood added. “Well, their retirement accounts went to hell and many have either gone back to work or they’re taking care of their kids or their kids’ kids. It’s just not matching what was hoped for within the golf business.”