It is the classic Economics 101 formula: If demand drops, so do prices. That is the case at golf courses across the country, and here in the Pine Tree State.
Rounds were off nationally almost a full percentage point (0.8 percent) in 2008 with average rounds played down to 27,966 per facility compared to 28,202 in 2007, according to a report co-produced by the PGA of America and National Golf Course Owners Association.
Those numbers, say course operators, have been much the same here in Maine, where poor weather and a struggling economy have combined to encourage local public facilities to discount rounds, offer deals, or at the very least, hold the line on green fees.
“Although the economy did play a role in last year’s numbers, we were more affected by the (poor) weather,” notes Dave Pollard, general manager of Spring Meadow in Gray. “The economy began to significantly dip as we were getting ready to close last season. It is a different story in 2009. Our opening this year will see the economy near or at bottom.”
Spring Meadows and other public-access courses have responded with aggressive pricing programs and discounts in recent years and will continue to do so. The Gray course, for instance, has tried to maintain level pricing in both green fees, seasonal play passes and memberships in recent years, Pollard says, despite rising costs of materials, fuels and fertilizers.
With the economy not expected to improve significantly until the second half of 2010, Pollard says his facility has been “very sensitive to the tightening of budgets our many customers are seeing.”
“Spring Meadows has always offered great pricing to play golf during our off-peak times and will continue to do so,” he said. “Our all-you-can twilight green fee rate Monday through Thursday is $26 beginning at 3 p.m. We offer after-5 p.m. play with green fee and cart at $23.”
The club will continue to promote Internet specials, 2-for-the-price of-1 deals and an early spring special discount including 18-hole green fee of $30 weekdays and $35 weekends.
Toddy Brook Golf Course in North Yarmouth is discounting green fees to start the season by as much as 25 percent, reports General Manager Mike Smith.
In addition to daily-fee players, Toddy Brook has an active membership that has been hard-pressed by the economy.
“One thing that was a big hit at Open House was the payment plan for members and potential members that breaks membership fees out into four payments,” Smith says.
Local private clubs that depend almost completely on membership fees have also been hit hard by recent economic woes. Many have restructured membership pricing, reorganized programming and renovated facilities to attract new members in reaction to the economic downturn.
In October 2008, the Falmouth Country Club (FCC) Board of Directors voted to change FCC from a year-round to a seasonal club that will operate from April 1 through mid-November and close down the remainder of the year, says Office Manager Barbara Morton.
The Directors consolidated membership categories to four and, thanks in large part to the wintertime clubhouse closing, lowered prices in most categories: Full Golf went from $4,400 to $3,600; Single/Individual from $3,825 and $3,520 down to $2,700; and Social from $2,200 down to $1,500.
“FCC is looking forward to growing its membership through the lowering of the annual dues as well as the continued low initiation fee of $500,” Morton says.
Like elsewhere in the country, golf rounds and memberships have been down in recent years at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth, according to Membership Director Mary Anne MacArthur. The Woodlands Board of Directors “made some strategic decisions last year to guarantee that The Woodlands continues to meet the needs of our current members and attracts new members,” she explains.
“We began renovations on the golf course and in the clubhouse that will enhance the whole experience.”
The Falmouth facility completed renovations to all its bunkers. Original course architect Jim Fazio oversaw the project, which included rebuilding the hazards, new sand and upgraded irrigation. The club also renovated the clubhouse dining and lounge areas.
“With the turn in the economy,” MacArthur says, “people are making choices about how to spend their discretionary income. The Woodlands offers something unique: one-stop shopping for the active family. Whether a family is interested in golf, tennis, swimming, or fitness, they can get that year-round. Plus, we offer camp and golf programs for members’ children throughout the year.”
Despite the capital improvements, The Woodlands has had to deal with economic realities in trying to attract new members.
“We have responded to the downturn in the economy by lowering our initiation fees for full golf memberships for a limited time,” MacArthur says. “Our goal is to increase our membership by 60 members in the next 60 days. The response so far has been terrific. We anticipate that golf rounds will be up this year. If people are staying closer to home, they’ll come out to the club more frequently and take advantage of all we have to offer. We are very optimistic.”
Charles Ross, general manager at Portland Country Club (CC), leads one of the few local golf facilities that have not had to make fee concessions. Historic, high-profile clubs like Portland CC have been best able to keep their heads above water.
Portland CC has never allowed outside players unaccompanied by a member. Nor has it permitted the outside tournaments many private clubs depend on to help bolster revenues. Consequently, “our projections for this year are very similar to previous years,” the Portland CC general manager explains.
But Ross realizes his club is among the minority and is not gloating over his situation.
“We are fortunate to be one of the very few clubs that maintain a full membership and waiting list,” he concludes. “My heart goes out to the great clubs and courses that are suffering badly from the economic downturn.”