There was a time when Ron Molina wouldn't think twice about dropping $1,000 for an afternoon of networking with potential clients on one of L.A.'s upper-crust golf courses.
But a few months ago, Lexmark International, which employs Molina as senior executive of sales, put an end to networking golf games in an effort to trim costs.
"You have to have an incredible business justification to take someone out for golf," said Molina, who used to be out on the links at least once a month as part of a foursome for lunch, drinks and 18 holes. "But it's better than laying off people."
Lexmark, which designs and manufactures computer printers, is typical of companies around Los Angeles trying to trim expenditures as the slow economy cuts into revenues. While such belt-tightening helps sustain bottom lines, it is putting L.A.'s high-end golf courses into the rough. "Corporations are being more judicious about how they spend their money, and golf is not a necessity," said Frederick Chin, a real estate and golf industry expert at Ernst & Young. "What I have noticed over the last six to nine months is that corporate functions, such as the perks for salespeople, or corporate tournaments, are being cut or reduced."
American Airlines, for example, will reduce this year by 30 to 40 percent its corporate sponsorship of golf tournaments in the area, said Bill Kramer, the airline's managing director of passenger sales for the West Coast.
American has had a tough time getting corporations to sign up for its annual Flagship Charity Golf Tournament, which will be held at the Wilshire Country Club in September. "We'll be off 10 to 15 percent from last year," Kramer said, noting that 80 golfers had signed up by the end of July, down from 92 last year.
Country clubs also are feeling the pinch, as businesses try to save money by reducing their catering costs for tournaments.
Staff members at the private Mountaingate Country Club in Brentwood have noticed that the once-big lunchtime barbeques that were once popular are being replaced by skimpier fare, such as boxed lunches.
"Companies are backing off on the food they purchase for the golfers in their tournaments, and little touches like that," said Diana Morehead, the club's director of catering. "Most companies before would host an open bar, which costs a couple thousand dollars, and now they are making it a cash bar."
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