Friday, December 7, 2012

The Cold, Hard Facts december 7, 2012

No surprise here: It’s been a very, very good year for U.S. golf course owners and operators. Through September, according to data compiled by Golf Datatech, the number of rounds played at U.S. golf courses has increased by 7.4 percent. Even if the number of rounds played in the fourth quarter of 2012 shows no increase, says the National Golf Foundation, we’ll still end the year with “the largest single-year jump since the turn of the century” and “a national gain of more than 30 million rounds.” Much of the credit goes to unusually warm weather, of course, but the NGF points out that “national measurements of consumer confidence and spending have also been slowly and consistently edging upward from lows we saw in the Great Recession.” My only concern: What happened to winter?

Is growth on the horizon for private U.S. golf clubs? The National Golf Foundation has determined that “club members who resigned memberships under the financial pressures of the past four to six years now appear to be reconsidering their non-member status.” In addition, the NGF has concluded that only 6 percent of the current members of U.S. golf clubs are what it calls “vulnerable,” meaning that they feel less than “completely confident” about maintaining their memberships “in the next few years.” When you add Part A and Part B, you get a picture of a business that seems primed for a rebound.

Where are the world’s top 1,000 golf courses? More than one of every three (36 percent) are in the United States, according to the second edition of the World’s Top 1,000 Golf Courses, while 28 percent are in Europe and 23 percent are in the Asia Pacific. Of the 63 countries represented in the guide, the United States garnered by far the most top-1,000 selections (362). Australia is a distant second (65), followed closely by England (60). The remainder of the top 10 consists of Scotland (43), China (40), Canada and Japan (36 each), Ireland & Northern Island (31), Spain (23), and France (22).

More than 85 percent of the golfers in Scandinavia and Germany have taken a “non-domestic” golf holiday over the past 12 months, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by Reed Travel Exhibitions. The survey says that German golfers take longer trips than Scandinavians (7.5 days vs. 5.8 days), but Scandinavians travel in larger groups (seven vs. five).

The Portland Business Journal, in Oregon, reports that the revenues generated by the city’s five municipally owned golf courses are “inching back to pre-recession levels.” Through the first six months of 2012, the city’s courses rang up $7.5 million, their best showing since before the 2007-08 fiscal year.

It’s getting harder to find golf courses with bentgrass greens in greater Myrtle Beach. The Myrtle Beach Sun News reports that 78 of the 90 or so public golf properties in the area now feature a variety of bermuda on their putting surfaces. Some private courses still have bent, the newspaper says, but the trend is clear. “A few courses are still hanging on, and my guess is it might not ever go to zero, but it will get close to it,” a turfgrass expert believes. This year alone, the newspaper notes, an estimated 60 to 80 golf courses in the Southeast have converted to bermuda.

Since 1991, according to a financial statement filed by Tokyo-based Accordia Golf Company, the number of golfers aged 15 and over in Japan has fallen from 17.8 million to 9 million.

Doonbeg Golf Club, in County Clare, Ireland, celebrated its 10th anniversary by losing $8.3 million. The club, which features a Greg Norman-designed golf course, has lost more than $70 million since it opened in 2002. The club’s general manager told the Irish Examiner that Kiawah Partners, Doonbeg’s South Carolina-based owner, has “always recognized that Doonbeg is a long-term project and are conscious that with the changes in the Irish economy, it is going to take a little longer than originally envisaged to become profitable.”

The number of rounds played at Albuquerque, New Mexico’s four municipally owned golf courses has fallen by 16 percent since 2008, from 295,083 to 246,218. “We’re trending down, on average, about 2 percent a year,” a city official told a local television station. This year, in an attempt to get back on track financially, the city raised greens fees. No closings are currently being discussed, but if the golf operation’s bottom line doesn’t improve, the city’s golfers can expect further rate increases.

By the end of this year, an estimated 600,000 international travelers are expected to take golf vacations in Thailand. The number represents a double-digit increase, says the Chicago Tribune, despite the world-wide economic slump. “You would think that golf tourism would decline during a recession, but it doesn’t,” the owner of an Asian golf tourism company told the newspaper. “Golfers just go to less expensive places.”

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