Despite poor economy, golf courses stay hopeful

Tiara Rado Golf Course was closed earlier this year during a $3.5 million construction project, but is drawing praise with its new look this season.

Grand Valley golf courses count 2008 as one of their best years for revenue in recent history.

But as people stopped making green in 2009, visits to the green became a luxury for some.

People moving away from the area, job losses and a long winter that pushed back the number of days golfers could play last fall and early this spring didn’t help patronage, Chipeta Golf Course General Manager Doug Dominguez said. A long winter cut February out of the course’s season and contributed to course revenue so far this year being 10 percent below totals for the first half of 2009, he said.

Dominguez said the club’s leagues have received a boost in membership, but fewer people are buying drinks and snacks from the clubhouse, and he has ordered less merchandise for the course’s shop. That contrasts starkly with the club’s record year, 2008, when Dominguez regularly saw the course packed with players willing to buy a round of beer.

“I would have so many energy and construction workers out here in the afternoons and on weekends, and that has curtailed,” he said.

A 2009 study by the National Golf Foundation found about 1,350 public golf courses in the U.S. experienced operating losses last year. The number of U.S. golfers has increased 16 percent in the past 20 years, according to the study, while the number of golf courses has increased 24 percent. The study’s authors estimated 5 to 10 percent of those courses will close each year until supply cuts back far enough to meet demand.

Private golf courses are facing their own issues, according to Mike Mendelson, head golf professional at Bookcliff Country Club. The club has lost some members since the economy soured, he said, although he’s encouraged by the recent addition of 15 members to the club in the past month.

“To me it seems things are getting better” locally, he said.

2009 was a tough year, and 2010 has been better, but not perfect. The club has cut back on labor and payroll while trying to keep service to customers intact, Mendelson said. Bookcliff has added tournaments to try to generate more revenue.

Some golfers still are interested in the game, but more are interested in saving money when they do book a tee time.

“Nationwide, the golf courses that are doing the best are the lower-priced municipals,” Mendelson said.

Doug Jones, golf course superintendent for the city of Grand Junction, said city-owned Tiara Rado and Lincoln Park golf courses did well despite the recession last year. But bad weather caused revenue to taper off last October at both courses, Jones said, and Tiara Rado was closed earlier this year during a $3.5 million construction project.

“Golf, at least for us, is weather-related,” Jones said. “Some of it is the economy and people moving out, but most of it’s weather-related.”

Jones said municipal courses may tend to cost less, but he’s not sure that’s enough to train the loyalties of all local golfers on municipal courses.

“It’s just golf for the people of Grand Junction. They’ll find their niche and where they like to play and the price point they like to play at,” he said.


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