The health of the golf industry has long been tied with the economy as a whole, but even with the economy recovering fewer golfers are roaming the courses.
Nationwide, golf numbers have decreased recently with as many as 400,000 golfers leaving the sport last season, according to the National Golf Foundation.
Forty-one courses opened in the state from 2000-06 and since then more than a dozen courses have closed. Earlier this month, the Hastings Country Club closed and was put on the market. The Fred Richards Golf Course in Edina has also closed.
Locally, Willingers Golf Club and the Northfield Golf Club saw the number of rounds increase this season due in large part to cooperative weather.
Former Northfield Golf Club General Manager Kyle Holmes , who resigned Oct. 27 to pursue other golf industry opportunities closer to his family roots in Michigan , said he hopes the club will finish the season in the 28,000-29,000 round range.
Willingers General Manager Mike Luckraft expects to be around 26,000 rounds for the season and said the club is in a growth period.
“Our membership numbers are pretty much where we want them,” Holmes said. “I think nationally at this time there’s too many courses for the amount of golfers there are.”
Northfield Golf Club is a semi-private club and the majority of its rounds come from members, Holmes said.
Only 14 new courses were built last year, according to the National Golf Foundation, and almost 160 were shut down.
“Back in the 90s and 2000s for roughly one course closing hundreds were being built,” Holmes said. “It’s just the supply and demand. Supply is up now. It’s unfortunate. You never know which courses are going to fold.”
The sport hit a peak of 30 million players in 2005, according to the National Golf Foundation. But since then, the golf industry has started to look at ways to generate interest.
Proposals to expand the size of the hole to 15 inches have been made. Jack Nicklaus advocated for a 12-hole course and foot golf has started to take over on some course. Foot golf is offered at 10 courses in Minnesota now.
The typical golfer’s priorities have changed since the game’s peak. Willingers’ Luckraft has noticed players have more structure in their time. More players have requested to play nine holes and aren’t spending as much time at the clubhouse after their round.
The declining interest in the game has trickled down to golf club manufacturers as well. Golf club manufacturers have seen declining profits. Callaway’s net revenue fell $43 million from 2011 to 2013. Dick’s Sporting Goods laid off nearly 500 PGA professionals this summer, according to McCall’s.
“It feels like from an equipment standpoint they’re really more cautious,” Luckraft said. “We don’t sell quite as many sets. If you’re going to get a full set of clubs, it’s an expensive undertaking.”
Not only have golf club sales suffered, but the number of corporate outings has dissipated. Willingers used to have around 120 corporate outings a season but now that number is around 80, Luckraft said.
Willingers has turned to promotional events to generate
more players like it’s “Two for Tuesdays” promotion, where two players can play 18 holes with a cart and get a ticket for lunch.
“We don’t have many guys out here five days a week and that used to be normal,” Luckraft said. “We’re trying to do creative things to attract those people, trying to do nine-hole events, couple events, instruction events.”