It's a flat golf world

As the state with the largest population, California might seem like a prime target for golf developers. But builders know that any proposed course there faces a long, complicated process.

"There are other states that aren't easy for development, but California is the toughest," said golf course architect Cal Olson. "There are so many activists who get involved in the approval process and push to make it more difficult [to build a course]."

Despite those challenges, California still shared the top ranking in the number of 18-hole equivalents added nationally over the past five years.

The Golden State and Arizona each gained a net 20 courses in total supply between 2003 and 2007, according to statistics taken from the annual report on course supply in the U.S. issued recently by the National Golf Foundation.

As of Dec. 31, 2007, California had 773 18-hole equivalents, the third highest total in the U.S., behind Florida (1,037) and Michigan (797.5). Arizona had 291 18-hole equivalents.

The study showed that for the third consecutive year, the supply of golf courses in the United States in 2007 remained virtually unchanged. There were 13,709.5 18-hole equivalents, an increase of just 7.5 courses from the previous year.

Over the five-year period 2003-2007, according to NGF statistics, Utah and Colorado had the largest percentage gains in 18-hole equivalents. Utah'sa course supply increased 12.9 percent (11.5 courses) and Colorado had an 8.2 percent gain (16.5 courses).

The course growth in Colorado-as in much of the country-was fueled over the past five years by real estate development, according to Tom McElhinney, senior appraiser for TPS Golf Consultants in Denver. He said the result is an oversupply of courses, especially in the Denver metro area and in Vail, where much of the new development occurred during that period.

Jim Kass, NGF director of research, said the overall num bers confirm the conventional industry wisdom that the U.S. course supply has been flat for several years.

Part of the reason is that the number of new course openings has been declining in recent years, but "what is driving the numbers is closures and the increase in renovations," Kass said.

The situation in Florida reflects the national picture. Despite a stream of new course openings, Florida has seen 72 18-hole equivalents closed over the past 10 years, the most of any state, Kass said. Florida also had 27 courses temporarily shut down for renovation in 2007, which removed them from the NGF supply database.

Overall, the Sunshine State has a net addition of six 18-hole equivalents since 2003.

The most significant drop in the number of 18-hole equivalents was reported in South Carolina, which experts say has suffered from an oversupply in recent years. South Carolina suffered a net loss of 24 courses between 2003 and 2007, the NGF numbers showed.

David (Rock) Lucas of Charwood Country Club, president of the South Carolina Golf Course Owners Association, traced the decline to a combination of economic conditions.

"Most of the drop [in number of courses] is in the Myrtle Beach area," he said, where more than a dozen courses have closed in the past three years.

In that market, he said, courses that originally were built in outlying areas have seen the land around them developed for residential and commercial uses.

"So even though the course may have been successful, the owners decided that it was easier to sell to a developer for a commercial, retail or high-end apartment complex than to struggle to continue turning a profit" he said.

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