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Bad economy? Humbug! Get out and golf while the golfin's good

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
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For golfers, tough economic times mean cheap golf in the form of discount green fees, great deals on membership fees and more. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

Golf course owners might be feeling the pinch. But for golfers, tough economic times mean cheap golf in the form of discount green fees, great deals on golf club membership fees and more.

First the banks, then the automakers come begging for money. Who will be next? When does golf get its turn?

Can you picture guys like Joe Steranka of the PGA of America, Steve Mona of the World Golf Foundation and Mike Hughes of the National Golf Course Owners Association appearing before Congress, representing the golf industry, holding signs that say "Fund Our Fairways?"

"We're in dire straits," they'd claim. "A few years ago, someone told us we had to open a golf course a day to keep up with demand, and we tried to do that, but it just ain't working out. We figured by this time, there would be some 250 million golfers in the good ole USA, but the downturn in the economy has us 220 million short of that goal. We're not asking for $75 billion or anything like that. Maybe just a few million to fund some studies and stuff. C'mon, you'd never miss it."

Get in line. Last week, we learned we were officially in a recession. Boy, investors loved hearing that. Now we're seeing these kinds of stories daily: "Expecting a raise? Forget about it: Employers cutting back," or "Bad economy keeping unhappy couples together."

And this newsflash: "Golf industry in trouble as economy worsens - Housing market's collapse hampers development of new courses," which appeared this week on MSNBC.com.

Now there's a surprise: Golf isn't immune to our economic woes.

According to an MSNBC story written by David Sweet: The problems of the broad economy are bedeviling golf course construction. The housing market's collapse has hampered development, since a number of golf projects these days are tied into on-site housing. Getting financing to build a new course is tougher than it has been in decades. Projects that were started this year have seen the bulldozers turned off until better times appear.

That's right: fewer golf courses are going to get built for a while.

According to the latest findings of the National Golf Foundation, U.S. golf course developers are on track to post the lowest number of openings in two decades. Measured in 18-hole equivalents, only 65 courses have opened so far this year and the NGF estimates, based on the number of courses currently under construction, that another 10-20 will open by the end of the year. That would bring the 2008 openings total to 75 to 85 18-hole equivalents, the lowest number in over 20 years.

A silver lining for golfers?

No doubt, the housing crisis hasn't helped, but the game hasn't exactly been in a growth pattern the last decade anyway. Let's face it: It takes too long to play; it's difficult and it's expensive, at least it used to be - expensive, that is.

This downturn in the economy could turn out to be golf's silver lining - at least for a while - and golfers will be the short-term beneficiaries.

As fellow WorldGolf.com writer Tom Spousta points out on the latest "TravelGolf.com This Week" podcast, posh country clubs are opening their doors to public play for part of the year just to raise revenue, other private clubs are lowering or eliminating initiation fees altogether, and daily-fee golf courses are coming up with all kinds of creative ways to get you to come out to their courses.

A recent article in the Seattle Times listed nine great golf bargains: It started with free golf on your birthday - which is becoming a standard practice in many parts of the country and ended with $10.75 green fees, which include tax, for the nine-hole "No frills" Wellington Hills Golf Course. A return-trip around the nine, by the way, is $6.75.

Bargains like these are typical and not difficult to find these days. And this didn't start last week with the recession announcement. If you're a daily-fee player, here's a bit of advice: Get on as many course e-mail lists as possible. Some deals are better than others, but they seem to keep getting better and they blast them out daily to their customers.

One that I got recently simply stated: "Golf for less than a dollar a hole."

Man, those are 1970s prices. One of my favorites, put out by Palmer Management Courses, are the beer, breakfast and/or lunch deals. Two beers, lunch, green fee and cart for $25 during the week, and we're not talking goat track here. These are two quality championship level type golf courses in decent condition. And with those kind of savings, you could actually buy more beer on the course and really get a buzz out of your game.

Play golf, my friend, while the golfin's good

So golf is becoming affordable, at least to those who haven't lost their jobs. Is it possible the game could actually grow during these down times?

Of course, these deals may actually be scary good. You know, like the feeling you get when you fill up your car these days for $25 when it cost $70 just a few months ago. You keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, when you find out that whatever you do for a living is no longer necessary because the oil companies have laid off thousands, the car companies have consolidated into one and so on and so on.

But hey, what good is it to worry about an apocalyptic economy that may never come? Play golf, America. (Oops, sorry, that slogan is already taken.) I mean, play golf, my friend, while the golfin's good! For tomorrow may bring prosperity and you may not be able to afford it.

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Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before joining the TravelGolf Network team in 2008, he held positions at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Read Mike's golf blog here and follow him on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
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