When I spoke to Russ Appel last month, the superintendent at Briggs Woods Golf Course was thrilled about rounds and revenue going up at his track, a municipal course in Webster City, Iowa. It has been a few years since that has occurred at Briggs Woods.
“Maybe we’ve turned the corner,” Appel says. “We’re hopeful.”
The more I spoke with Appel, the more I learned about the struggles that Briggs Woods has endured the past 13 years. I’m sure the course’s challenges are a microcosm of courses around the country.
What I heard from Appel was startling. Back in the late 1990s, Briggs Woods did about 24,000 rounds. But the course’s rounds plummeted to the 12,000 range a few years later.
“We were at the 24,000 range for quite some time,” Appel says.
It wasn’t the Great Recession that caused Briggs Woods’ rounds to tank. Actually, Appel isn’t exactly sure what caused it, but he has a good idea.
“Everything just hit the skids after 9/11,” he says.
It would be one thing if the course’s condition was suffering and golfers decided to play elsewhere, but that wasn’t the case. It would be another thing if Briggs Woods priced itself out of the market, but the course is a bargain at $36 for 18 holes (with a golf car).
Appel isn’t blaming lost rounds on 9/11, the worst attack on American soil that resulted in more than 3,000 lives lost. He realizes how shallow that would be and will never forget that day of tragedy.
“I remember walking in the clubhouse, and the golf pro was watching TV,” Appel says. “She said to me, ‘You have to come and see this.’ “
As Appel approached the TV, he could see thick, black smoke billowing from a building that he thought looked like one of the World Trade Center skyscrapers. As he continued to approach with his eyes on the TV, he saw a jet airliner, the second plane, crash into what he thought was the second World Trade Center tower.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” he says.
It didn’t take long for Appel and millions of Americans to find out.
“It was so sad,” he says. “Everyone around here was in a daze.”
There weren’t many golfers at Briggs Woods the next day, or the day after that.
“There was so much sorrow that people didn’t know what to do,” Appel says.
Rounds dropped at Briggs Woods the following year and the year after that.
“We were like, what’s going on here?” Appel notes.
Thirteen years later, golf has never been the same at Briggs Woods.
Appel believes something happened as a result of 9/11 that has caused people to play less golf. I’ve noticed that as well.
The golf industry just doesn’t seem the same since the catastrophe. Appel and I agree that it may have to do with a renewed concept of family – we believe that more people are playing fewer rounds because they want to spend more time with their families.
What happened on 9/11 showed a lot of people that life can be fleeting. It reinforced to people the need to embrace what should be most important in their lives – their families.
“It changed values,” Appel says.
It’s sad that it took something like 9/11 to convince us to spend more time with our families. It’s not a blessing because nothing so tragic could ever yield a blessing.
Call it a realization.
Many of us are looking for more quality family time, which is a wonderful thing. And this is where golf can make a difference – and not just to increase rounds and revenue.
The game continues to offer a wonderful opportunity to attract families so they can spend quality time together. But more golf courses need to embrace this concept.
Families are welcome at Briggs Woods.
“We have a beautiful golf course with a lot of wildlife and trees,” Appel says. “It’s a beautiful place to spend time with your family.”
Golf has the misfortune of long being labeled “a rich white man’s game.” But wouldn’t it great if someday it could be known as “America’s family game?”