Rounds played up at Lake County forest golf courses
The heat has begun to keep some players off the golf course in the afternoons but overall the warm spring has meant a growth spurt at some public facilities compared with last year.
At the Lake County Forest Preserve District, which operates four courses at three locales — Countryside in Mundelein, Brae Loch in Grayslake and ThunderHawk in Beach Park — revenues and the number of rounds played have increased substantially, officials say.
"Especially the first five months," of the year, said Bonnie McLeod, the district's finance director. "Last year, the spring was very bad." Through May, the number of rounds played at the four courses totaled 11,570, up 31 percent from the 8,806 during the same time in 2011. That equated to a 45 percent increase in revenue, though $260,383 more was spent for golf operations than was received. The deficit at that point last year was $459,553.
The deficit comes from having more seasonal staff on duty than last year because of the better weather and the higher costs of gasoline and goods sold, McLeod said. Revenues typically begin to exceed expenses starting in June.
So far, June is following the same path. Revenue was up 14 percent for the district courses compared with June 2011 and 19 percent ahead of June 2010.
"I would say the bulk of it is weather related. Last spring was extremely wet, especially on weekends," said Mark Petitgoue, acting golf operations manager.
He said the hot weather hasn't affected morning play but the pace has begun to lag in the afternoon.
Steeple Chase Golf Club operated by the Mundelein Park & Recreation District just west of Countryside also has seen a boost in play this season.
"We're up about 3,000 (rounds) over this time last year. It's a lot," said Bill Brolley, PGA pro and golf operations manager. He also attributed the jump in play to better weather but thought the perception that the economy may be coming around also was a factor, as evidenced by an increase in sales of merchandise.
Fees at Steeple Chase have been frozen since 2009 and the course does not offer discounts.
That's different from the forest preserve district, which has debuted a variety of specials and online reservations that have accounted for about 13 percent of the bookings.
A smartphone application, which initially will allow golfers to "tour" ThunderHawk and later the other courses from the air, is to be released shortly.
While rebounding this year, the overall interest in golf still lags the heyday of several years ago. The number of rounds played at the forest preserve courses dropped 23 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to district figures, prompting staff reductions and other cost saving measures.
The bleak outlook also prompted the district to nix plans for a golf course at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve and opt for an open space plan as a better alternative.
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