In the rough: Golf courses struggle with sub-par demand

Golf continues to lose its allure, with courses across the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado witnessing an exodus of players even as the economic recovery has put more recreation dollars back in people’s pockets.

Player rounds have been declining in the region during the past five years at public courses in Boulder, Fort Collins and Greeley.

Flatiron Golf Course in Boulder had nearly 2,000 fewer rounds; Fort Collins’ City Park Nine, Collindale and Southridge had about 800 fewer; and Greeley’s Boomerang Links and Highland Hills Golf Course saw rounds decline by 5,000 in 2013 compared with 2011, according to data provided by the three cities.

Colorado golf courses, like others nationwide, enjoyed wild popularity for decades, but now course managers are questioning how to sustain their operations in the next year as the declines continue.

“Golf courses are suffering and struggling because the demand is going down and the supply is going up,” said Ed Mate, executive director of the Colorado Golf Association.

According to the National Golf Foundation, more golf courses closed than opened in the United States in 2013 for the eighth straight year.

Despite the downturn, 2012 was a bright blip on the chart, with public courses in the region seeing a temporary rise in visits, which officials attributed largely to a warm, dry winter.

“In Colorado, weather controls playability,” said Dawna Gorkowski, parks financial supervisor for the city of Fort Collins. 2012 “was an exception to a normal golf year, because the weather in January, March and April was much nicer than normal and allowed for more plays. The economy was also recovering, and that may have helped a little.”

With fewer rounds being played, public golf courses have raised green fees to cover their costs, Mate said, a move that has improved revenue in some communities. Boulder’s Flatiron course saw its revenue climb 5.76 percent, from $764,694 in 2010 to $808,746 in 2013. Fort Collins saw its course revenue rise 9 percent, from $2,687,252 to $2,929,144 during the same period.

Greeley, however, had a 3.57 percent revenue drop, from $1,424,753 to $1,374,805.

 “We attributed the downfall in the last five years to economy, fuel costs for driving, many more golf courses and a few tough weather-related years,” said Wayne Leighton, manager of golf for the city of Greeley.

“Years ago, there were not many golf courses from Denver to Greeley, and Longmont, Loveland and Fort Collins had one or maybe two municipal courses. Now there are many outside Denver going north,” he said. “There is also the tremendous competition in discounted rates. People shop for the best-priced green fee and least miles to drive.”

Mate, on the other hand, thinks that the golf industry is slowly declining because the social structure has changed. Nowadays, he said, people are more prone to spend time with their families.

“For a long time, golf has been a male-dominated game. Today’s fathers do not control their calendars and rather than spending time on the golf course on weekends, they are taking kids to their numerous activities, such as soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics, swimming, etc.,” he said.

Mate said that the last golf course to open in the state was CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora, which was renovated in 2009.

Despite the decline of the sport, homebuilders continue to build courses to lure homebuyers. Windsor-based Water Valley Land Co., owned by developer Martin Lind, is planning to build a second golf course in the Windsor area.

Lind did not respond to requests for comment, but according to published reports, the 18-hole golf course, called RainDance National Golf Club, will be located less than three miles west of the 27-hole Pelican Lakes Golf and Country Club and will be designed by eight-time PGA Tour winner Fred Funk.

Mate said developers build new golf courses in residential developments because they raise property values.

“Golf and homebuilding have been a great match.” he said. “It’s been a  winning formula for developers — at least until the golf course can sustain itself.”

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