2008 course openings fall to lowest point in decades

New U.S. course openings declined to the lowest total in many decades in 2008, according to year-end tabulations by the National Golf Foundation.
Only 72 new courses, measured in 18-hole equivalents, opened in ’08, marking eight consecutive years of decline in openings from the all-time record high of 518 new 18-hole equivalents in 2000.
And for the third year in a row, course closures outnumbered openings, with 106 18-hole equivalents shuttering the doors in 2008 according to NGF totals.
“[Openings] may go even lower next year just because there are currently so many projects on hold,” predicted NGF CEO Joe Beditz. “It seems like just yesterday we were opening 300 to 400 new golf courses annually, but in the last five years, it’s been in the low 100s or less.”
He said that over the past half-decade, there has been only a net gain of about 50 golf courses in the U.S.
“Unfortunately there hasn’t been an increase in rounds or players in recent years,” Beditz said. “Both supply and demand have kind of been moving sideways, but given all the [economic] turmoil, maybe it’s not a bad thing to be stable these days.”
Course closures did decline last year from 2007 totals. Ironically, the smaller number of closures, mostly involving 9-hole, executive or alternative courses, according to Beditz, is attributable to the same pressures which are slowing new course development. While a course may want to sell out to a residential or commercial developer, those potential buyers are having difficulty finding financing for the purchase.

“Some people continue to see course closures as failures,” Beditz said. “They assume they’re all Chapter 7s or Chapter 11s, but that’s not necessarily the case. Many of those are business failures (primarily related to residential golf communities), not necessarily golf failures.” 


Statistics are great but why? What caused the boom in course openings and the opposite spectrum...what caused the closures? Golf course/housing developments have been the main reason for the past 30-40 years of course openings. Florida, Arizona, California and a few Southern states found a big market in home sales with golf courses. Big time developers promoted and built mega-complexes offering golf, tennis, health spas..all the bells & whistles. They bought the land "cheap", designed and developed first class facilities and sold them to a waiting audience of soon to be retired and also young financially prosperous people. This explosion of new facilities made land in these areas to skyrocket in prices and convinced developers this was the way to go. They continued to develop and prices for homes continued in an upward spiral in these golf course communities. While all this was going on, public courses started flourishing as the market for "lower green fees" was growing, municipalities got into the golf course business as the first major competitor to the private golf and country club business. Member owned and managed golf and country clubs continued with their head "in the sand" mentality of not knowing they were in the dues business! Most clubs were losing members for many reasons. Health, death, financial, relocation, dissatisfaction etc., and as usual the the "gurus" followed the accepted pattern of ignorance! Raise dues, assess the existing members, cut costs and services. Thus started the exodus of private club members. They became disinchanted, started evaluating the "cost per round" at their club, referalls declined and an atmosphere of dis-satisfaction grew. This condition buoyed public play but now this sector was starting to feel the pinch as more public facilities entered the market (private clubs going public). And, once again the "private club gurus" not knowing which way or where to go, started their "fire sales" to acquire new members. In essence, they told the public we are in trouble and this is our sale price! This is scary as the prospect and potential member wonders why the price is so cheap"? Now the economy offers these "gurus" a cop-out for their failure in maintaining membership levels in the good times. The industry is in for some "real bad times" as the "baby boomer market" has been brutalized in their retirement programs (401K's etc), housing/golf course development cancelled or curtailed, competition from other forms of recreation and unfortunately private golf and country clubs will continue to fail as they don't listen to people that can help them and the "good-ole boys" don't want to disrupt the accepted methods that are choking them now! Hopefully, one day they will realize the value of a member and start of protect that value and maintain it. This is a very long comment but for the reader who truly is concerned about golf, their own situation, I can tell you this "epistle" comes from my own very frustrating experience in membership acquisition and the destructive lack of knowledge in managing a golf & country club that most member owned and managed clubs have.

Add new comment

If you enjoyed this article and would like to sign up for a FREE digital subscription, click here!