By Jim Fitzgerald
Mamoroneck, N.Y. — A few weeds have popped up on the fairways, and summer’s heat has scorched the grass here and there, but the golf course at the Hampshire Country Club is still tidy and scenic, its little waterfall still burbling through the rocks.
Not that there’s anyone around to notice.
The Hampshire’s 18-hole course on Long Island Sound, along with its tennis courts, pool and restaurant, is closed this year. Members cited rising costs of more than $25,000 a year for a membership as the roster fell from several hundred at its peak to about 100.
The same thing has happened in recent years at hundreds of other courses nationwide. Whether it’s a $45,000 initiation fee for a private club or a $5 increase in the cost of a round at a public course, the price of golf is giving some duffers pause.
“It’s definitely connected to the economic conditions and the ability of potential private club members to pay the fairly significant initiation fees and annual dues,” said Jay Mottola, executive director of the Metropolitan Golf Association, representing 120,000 golfers and 500 golf courses in the New York region.
In 2009, about 140 of the 16,000 golf facilities in the country closed and 50 opened, said Greg Nathan, a vice president at the National Golf Foundation, which represents 4,000 courses nationwide. Mottola said the industry has lost 100 clubs a year for the past four years. (The figures count nine-hole courses as half a facility.)
In areas of the country where golf is played year-round, many courses were built to raise the prices of new houses around them, said Roger Garrett, a Phoenix real estate agent who has sold more than 150 golf courses nationwide.
Now, with the housing market depressed, a dozen or more golf properties in Arizona are in foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings, he said. The family owned Sea Island Co. — with a stretch of private beaches and ancient oaks in coastal southern Georgia — has also filed for federal bankruptcy protection, proposing to sell its resorts and golf courses, where presidents Coolidge, Eisenhower and George W. Bush have been guests.
A dwindling in the ranks of golfers followed an oversupply of golf courses and then the great recession hit.
Since 2005, when it peaked at 30 million, Nathan said there’s been “a slow leak” in the number of U.S. golfers, dropping to 27.1 million in 2009 (including anyone over age 6 who played a round). Rounds played were down 2.7 percent in the first half of this year, Nathan said.
A building boom in the 1990s and early 2000s brought an oversupply of both public and private courses. Mottola said courses owned by municipalities are “by and large doing OK.”
The recession has also taken a toll on public courses. The Links at Shirley, in Shirley, N.Y., which had advertised itself as “a public course with a private feel” has closed.
Clubs still need to do more, said golfer Greg Schimoler of Mamaroneck, teeing off at the Saxon Woods public course in Scarsdale. “The social life kids have today is not the country club lifestyle,” Schimoler said.