The golf course maintenance industry goes as the golf industry goes. If you ask Bill Kennedy, president of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association (GCSA), he’ll tell you that both are going a lot better than many people believe.
“I think the picture gets painted a little more negatively than it actually is,” says Kennedy, director of maintenance and the certified golf course superintendent at Chechessee Creek Club in Bluffton, South Carolina. “I think this is as good as we’ve been in a while from an industry standpoint. There are still some things to figure out, but we’ve endured the worst. All in all, I think were headed in the right direction.”
Golf rounds were down 1.5 percent through October 2014 when compared to the same time in 2013, according to the National Golf Foundation. Considering that about 150 golf courses were expected to close in 2014 — the ninth straight year this has occurred — maybe a decline of 1.5 percent isn’t so bad.
At the Meadows Golf Club at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, Ron Dahlin, the certified golf course superintendent, says the course’s tee sheet was full for a good portion of 2014.
“And we can keep it full without having to do as much discounting as we have in the past,” Dahlin adds. “I’m not saying we’re going to be able to raise our rates soon, but it’s refreshing to know that we’re not giving away golf.”
Discounting has hurt the game, especially if courses did it in a way that wasn’t creative.
“I don’t think you can get by on an $18 round and a free sleeve of balls,” Kennedy says.
When courses offer severe discounts, revenues are limited and golf maintenance budgets get slashed, which means superintendents can’t do the things they need to do agronomically, Kennedy explains.
“That’s a formula for disaster,” he adds.
More courses continue to close annually than open, a trend that will continue for a few more years. The question is whether more should be done to keep the courses open or should they just be left to close.
“We have some courses that are closing in Michigan, and we’ll continue to lose some more,” Dahlin says. “But those courses weren’t doing very well even when times were good.”
Kennedy is seeing some good signs in North and South Carolina. For starters, the Carolinas GCSA had another record-setting show in November. While the show’s success doesn’t mean that every course in North Carolina and South Carolina is doing well, Kennedy is encouraged, yet realistic. “There are geographic regions in both states that are flourishing,” he notes. “But there are still areas that are struggling. To say that everybody is killing it isn’t accurate.”
Chechessee is in its 16th year, as is Kennedy. In his preparations for renovations the club will undergo in the summer, Kennedy heard positive news from suppliers and builders.
“I spoke to a lot of guys in the construction business, and they told me they haven’t been this busy in 10 years,” Kennedy says.
There’s no doubt that builders and suppliers that got out of the business created a better environment for builders that stayed in the business, Kennedy notes.
“But I do think we’re on the right path [as an industry],” he adds. “I’m optimistic and positive about the future.”