Southern California’s drought hasn’t been kind to one of our favorite pastimes and leisure activities. The golf industry is suffering. Today, it’s very hard to find those cleanly raked bunkers and lush grass fairways and greens on L.A.’s public courses. The severe drought and economic forces are working against the golfing industry.
Today, water conservation efforts on L.A.-area public courses are quite apparent. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see the burned-out brown fairways, spotted greens and seeming lack of maintenance. Many local public courses are in the worst shape I’ve ever seen at this time of year and I’ve been a somewhat avid Southland duffer more than 30 years.
Today’s blame for poor course conditions can certainly be spread around. L.A.’s prolonged lack of rainfall hasn’t helped our links nor have stringent water conservation efforts instituted by courses willingly or not. But I think the bigger reason for brown fairways and bumpy yellow greens is that one of our favorite outdoor activities is suffering economically.
Fifteen years ago or so when Tiger Woods came on the scene, golf grew immensely in popularity. The sport drew millions, who bought equipment and played at courses across the United States trying to swing like Tiger. Golf ascended as Tiger took center stage.
According to the National Golf Foundation, in 2000 there were 28.8 million golfers in our country, later peaking at 30 million in ’05. By 2012, the number had fallen to 25.3 million. That’s a more than 15 percent decline in participation from ’05’s peak.
My good friend, banker and fellow links partner Alan Goldsmith states simply, “There are just too many courses around town – too many choices and fewer golfers.”
Supply and demand
In other words: There is an imbalance now between supply and demand in the golfing world. According to NGF, there were 914 courses operating in our state as of January. That is down from 2009, when 1,126 courses were open. The recession of ’08 and ’09 hit many courses hard and I suspect many golfers fled to the sidelines to avoid greens and carts fees. Tiger’s troubles on and off the course also seem to have shaken the industry. Tiger is also in a drought. He hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, which coincides with golf’s declining popularity.
Today, I presume most of L.A.’s public courses are conserving water to control costs and help them stay in business. It’s apparent to those of us who play the frustrating game that head count is down and so are rates on many public links. No longer is it hard to get tee times Friday through Sunday. As play has diminished and many courses battle through weather conditions, bargain rates to play have sprung up considerably over the last few years. Just visit: GolfNow.com, GolfZing.com, TeeOFF.com or other sites to find daily deals enticing you to play in Southern California, frequently deeply discounted.
Today, because play at many public courses has diminished and rates have fallen, weddings and other celebrations are welcomed at many public courses. Wine- and cheese-tasting evenings are becoming more prevalent around town and near the 18th hole. Public courses compete and vie for charity events and tournaments. Even high-end car shows come to various courses around town from time to time.
Our local golf needs to get back on greener tracks. We need Tiger to start winning majors again to re-energize and repopularize the sport. We need more than a fortnight of rain to end the drought and green our lawns and fairways. We need less conservation and more water sprinkled around at drought’s end to improve the beauty of many of our courses. The improved playing conditions should spur demand to play with many more shot-makers taking aim at pins. Then revenues and profits will increase at many area courses with more dollars to spend on upkeep and maintenance, which should fuel improved playing conditions even more. Until then, we simply need to wait for the heavens to open up and Tiger to win his 15th and 16th major.
Ted Lux, an avid Southland golfer, has been involved in real estate lending in the L.A. area for more than 25 years. He also wrote the investment book “Exposing the Wheel Spin on Wall Street.”
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