As people’s discretionary spending remains low nationwide, golf courses in Haywood County are trying to drive their way out of a bunker with price cuts and special offers aimed at drawing in atypical players.
Golf courses in the Haywood County are, at the very least, trying to stay on par with past numbers — be it the number of rounds played or total revenue earned.
“It’s a luxury,” said Jay Manner, the general manager at Maggie Valley Club & Resort. “We understand that golf is important to a lot of people, but it isn’t shelter or food.”
To help golfers save, the club is waving its initiation fee for anyone who signs an 18-month membership commitment.
The decline in golf has mostly taken its toll among casual, or “fringe” golfers, said Duane Paige, the general manager of Laurel Ridge Country Club.
Core golfers, a term Paige uses for those who play two, three or even four rounds a week, have been less likely to let up on their game in the recession.
But fringe golfers, those who played once or twice a month, have backed off, perhaps only playing every other month now, Paige said. And those who used to play very other month might now play just twice a year — or not at all.
Manner said the Maggie Club is “cautiously optimistic” about its numbers this year, particularly given the unseasonably warm winter. The course was up 1,000 rounds of golf in April compared to the prior year.
However, more rounds does not automatically translate to more money coming in. Several years ago, a round at the Maggie Valley Club was around $90. Today, its about $60. The club also moved its twilight hours up. Golfers with tee times after 2 or 3 p.m. would typically pay discounted rates because of the late start. Now that rate has been extended to those who tee off after 1 p.m.
The Waynesville Inn is no different, offering limited time play passes that are cheaper than a full-fledged membership, though without some of the perks.
The passes are “for that golfer that wants to play golf but doesn’t want to tie up money in a membership,” said Tom Halterman, general manager at Waynesville Inn Golf Resort & Spa. “We have gained a great deal of the local play” as a result, he said.
Halterman said that he thinks younger generations are put-off by the lifestyle a golf club membership portrays.
“Today’s generation they are not interested in that type of thing,” Halterman said. “Membership tends to scream stuffy.”
Courses that were once almost entirely private have opened up their fairways to outside play as a way top counter the decline.
“If we can bring in some amount of outside play that helps supplement our income,” said Paige. Laurel Ridge is now among those semi-private courses that accept outside play.
“We are always looking to help people enjoy our golf course because if they do we hope they become a member one day,” Paige said.
Golf course managers with a long view of their sport are perhaps most troubled by the declining number of younger golfers there to replace their aging core clientele.
Paige said the decline in play among younger golfers isn’t due solely to the economy. Men, who still account for the majority of golfers, typically spend more time with their families on the weekend. They are more likely to be involved in activities with their children and have household responsibilities than men in previous generations.
That’s led Paige to look for ways to get the whole family out to the course, including wives and children. Laurel Ridge offers junior golf camp in the summer, as well as special Tee-It-Forward rounds where the tee box is moved closer on the fairway to make the course doable for youth.
Maggie Valley Club is trying to get kids into the sport by offering junior golf lessons for all ages. That way, when the kids are learning to swing and putt, the parents can enjoy the golf course themselves or the club’s other amenities. Otherwise, people just don’t have the time to devote to golf nowadays as they did in the past.
“They’ve got kids, families,” Manner said. “They don’t have 4 to 4.5 hours.”
Likewise, golf courses are not capturing as much of the baby boomer generation as they expected, given that many people are being forced to work well past retirement age.
In hindsight, the proliferation of golf courses developments aimed at retirees and second-home buyers during the real estate heyday of the early 2000s was perhaps overly optimistic, Paige said.
“We were predicting continued prosperity that if you built it, they would come,” Paige said of the region’s outlook. “So we overbuilt. We have a little bit more supply than we have demand.”
Staff Writer Becky Johnson contributed to this story