INDIANAPOLIS - Saddlebrook Golf Course took a look at the bottom line and decided it was time to cut some deals, offering a two-year membership for nearly 80 percent off the normal daily rate.
In neighboring Illinois, greens fees at the Greenview Golf Club in Centralia are down from $35 a round to $23, which includes a cart.
The struggling economy has buried many golf courses in a financial sand trap, forcing owners to offer deep discounts to keep players and recruit new members. Others are putting up "for sale" signs or seeking new financing to stave off foreclosure.
"Nobody's making a living," said Greenview owner Tom Wargo, the 1993 Senior PGA champion and 1994 Senior British Open champion.
Indeed, with the economic meltdown affecting even such sports superpowers as the NFL and NASCAR, it's understandable that recreational golf is hurting.
Golf has always been a pricey pastime. The median rate for a round of 18 holes at a public course is about $40, and private club memberships can run well into the thousands of dollars.
Now throw in a recession and a tough situation for the nearly 16,000 public and private courses in the United States becomes even worse, said Mike David, executive director of the Indiana Golf Office, the umbrella group for the state PGA and other golf programs.
"It's not that there are fewer people playing," he said. "The problem is they're not playing enough rounds."
The National Golf Foundation reports golfers played about 498 million rounds in 2007. That number dropped about 8 million, or 1.6 percent, through the end of November, the most recent month surveyed, said Jim Kass, research director of the Jupiter, Fla.-based foundation.
The result is that more golf courses are closing than opening, a sharp change from as recently as 2001, when 252 more courses opened than closed.
The National Golf Foundation says 113 courses opened and 121 closed in 2007, and 2008 - for which it did not have final numbers - was on track to post the lowest number of openings in two decades.
More hazards may be on the horizon.
Developers of a $500 million golf and wine resort in Yakima, Wash., filed for bankruptcy protection in November, just two months after breaking ground on the project, and Georgia's exclusive Sea Island, once called the best golf resort in the nation by Golf Digest, laid off 500 employees last fall.
Northgate Golf Course in Reno, Nev., considered one of the best new courses in the country when it opened 20 years ago, announced in January it would close because it's losing money. Once a site for U.S. Open qualifying, Northgate stands to lose $530,000 in the current fiscal year, according to the Reno-area tourism board that operates the course.
Kathy Bissell, national golf course sales director for Coldwell Banker Commercial in Jacksonville, Fla., said buyers can still be found - and financing obtained - for courses that are priced correctly.
"But what we see a lot of are courses that don't have an appropriate level of net operating income for the price the owner would like to have," Bissell said.
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