The recent article in the Daily Herald about the financial challenges of many public golf courses brings light to some important issues. Certainly, these courses and others need to examine their operations and long-term viability. The challenges are numerous. Golf everywhere is under pressure for the reasons cited, but the questions, the reasons and answers are far more nuanced than a simple yearly budget.
The fact that more courses haven't closed is the bigger story. Public golf is not only surviving, but is thriving. I offer the following:
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• For years, profits from golf courses were used to improve playgrounds and subsidize other less profitable recreational endeavors.
• Multiple sources profess golfers are leaving the game. But a deeper look shows that the golfers leaving the game are those considered "infrequent golfers."
• For every golf course operating in the red, there are many that have turned a profit during the most dreadful of economic conditions.
• Maintenance and operational costs have been stabilizing for years. As golfers continue to adjust their expectations for conditioning, maintenance costs will moderate.
• Numerous initiatives are introducing the game to millions of children. These programs advocate a lifelong sport to this "wired/video" generation.
• Finally, public golf courses provide environmental benefit beyond recreation. It would be shortsighted to think of these courses transformed to strip malls or condominiums.
The golf industry is actively seeking ways to promote benefits that reach beyond the boundaries of the golf course. Those benefits are echoing and will be felt by golfers, nongolfers and the communities in which they reside. The narrow view sees unprofitable operations. The big-picture sees value that will resonate far beyond the golf course.
First Tee of Aurora Board of Directors
Treasurer, American Society of Golf Course Architects