Has the golf industry been overbuilt? | SummitDaily.com

Has the golf industry been overbuilt?

Jane Stebbins
Aaron Smith ropes the greens at The Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks in Sliverthorne Tuesday afternoon. The maintenance crew ropes the greens to keep out

snowmobilers and animals, especially elk.|Summit Daily/Kara K. Pearson| |

SUMMIT COUNTY – Developers and city officials throughout the nation are wondering if they might have sliced off more than they needed when building golf courses to bring in more revenue and sell luxury golf course homes.

But experts aren’t sure if it’s the soft economy, changing demographics of the sport, people tightening their wallets, or if there are, indeed, too many golf courses.

“A lot of it is economy related,” said Breckenridge golf pro Erroll Miller. “The corporate stuff isn’t out there the way it used to be, and people don’t have the leisure time they used to. At the same time, golf course developers, because of the value associated with golf course real estate, have continued to open (new courses), and some operations are certainly struggling.”

According to Golf ProfitBuilders (GPB), a consortium of golf industry pros who compile analytical and advisory data, baby boomers are not the hot demographic that so many course operators were hoping for. And data that initially indicated women were flocking to the sport is proving erroneous.

“We always thought the growing market was women,” said Breckenridge town manager Tim Gagen. “And it was for a little while, and developers were using that data to justify building new courses. The new data shows (women) play in huge numbers, but the actual amount that they play is very little. Repeat people are your bread and butter in terms of sustainability.”

GPB reports that the sport is losing as many golfers as it attracts each year, most likely because of the time it takes to play a round and the frustration players experience playing difficult courses.

Summit County isn’t suffering as badly as other resort areas, notably Myrtle Beach,

S. C., Orlando, Fla., Phoenix and other cities that built their revenue base – and reputations – on the sport.

Summit County is home to the 27-hole course at Breckenridge, two 18-hole courses at Keystone, and 18-hole courses at Copper Mountain and in Silverthorne.

Breckenridge’s course – the county’s only publicly owned facility – saw an increase of about 1,000 golfers, to more than 32,000 this year, Miller said. That’s because group and conference business is off anywhere from 50 to 70 percent, and locals, who typically pay less to play, have jumped in to pick up the slack, Gagen said. That shift from high-paying groups to locals meant the Breck course took in $29,000 less than last year and will fall about $45,000 short of budget.

Town officials also anticipate having to contribute about $200,000 toward the $500,000 annual debt on the new nine holes at the course next year.

“It’s just another hit to the excise tax fund that we wouldn’t have needed to use to support the golf course,” Gagen said. “It’s one of the new numbers that has impacted … the general fund. We’ve never had to do this before.”

Next year, Miller plans to price golf rounds on a supply and demand basis and offer midweek discounts and group packages.

Chris Chapman, operations assistant for the 3-year-old Raven course, said the course had its best season ever. But he doesn’t rule out the theory that golf is overbuilt.

“It’s a very distinct possibility, especially in this county,” he said. “We’ve got five great courses, there’s a lot of competition. It could be too much, especially with the tourism industry slowing down. It really could affect businesses. People have so many places they can go.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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