Seeking rosier outlook for golf

I was standing at the gas pump the other day and noticed that gas prices have dropped by over fifty cents since their peak a while back, to a low, low $3.41.  I noted that even with the price dip, it was still over $50 to fill the tank, and a tank of gas for me lasts about a week.

We have two cars that we use regularly, so at double that amount, we spend a minimum of about $450 a month on gas alone – just for the privilege of driving to work and the store, the kids to their activities and of course, church on Sunday.

My daughter also noted (strange how such keen observations can come from the young) that the price for chicken tacos at Chipotle went up 35 cents since our last visit — and for those who are paying attention, all the prices at the supermarket are creeping up in a similar fashion.  In the economic sense, that’s called inflation – for the family budget, that means fewer dollars to spend on things we really enjoy, instead of just needing to survive.

How does this translate to golf?  I’ve seen a lot fewer full foursomes at the local courses recently, and it’s rarely difficult to find a tee time at semi-private and upscale public access courses anymore.  Munis seem busier than ever – perhaps they’re absorbing the overflow from the pricier courses with empty fairways.

But the sad state of the economy is definitely trickling down to golf – and it seems obvious that the game is hurting.  I talked to a gentleman who works at a well-known (and respected) resort recently, and he said “our members are keeping us going, because the public traffic isn’t nearly what it used to be.”

But is it because of money alone?

Many a golf architect has mentioned that the problems go much deeper than that – the game’s too difficult to learn, too expensive, takes too much time, and there’s simply a glut of golf courses to choose from.  I haven’t checked lately, but those courses tied to new housing developments have to be suffering the most, because buying a new home is an awfully tough proposition when there’s little money for a down payment and lending criteria (by force of necessity) have been tightened considerably.

If the homes aren’t being sold, the capital invested in the golf course weighs down the owners just that much more.  Golf is a draw to bring people in, but with a healthy number of vacant homes (not to mention foreclosures), golf communities have to compete with the rest of the market for buyers.

Even here in the nation’s capital region, the trend is unmistakable – and with the overwhelming federal government presence, this area is as insulated from the recession as any in the country.  Public courses are sparsely populated and private clubs are even opening up to limited public play just to stay open.

Golf can still be the escape that it’s always been, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your ball land near the pin.  But without time and money to practice (and/or take lessons), those moments come dear in today’s world, because they’re too far in between.

It’s hard not to be pessimistic with all of these factors coming together.  And it’s sad to see that the state of the game can be surmised just by pumping gas – but if there is someone out there with a rosier picture, please fill us in.

We can use a little good news.

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