A cure for what ails golf: less golf

There’s a plan in Duluth for stemming the red ink resulting from Minnesota falling out of love with the game of golf: Less golf.

Like many Minnesota cities that own golf courses, Duluth is losing money on the game — $176,000 this year, the Duluth News Tribune reports today.

So the company that manages the courses is proposing shortening the season to May to October.

“We would do this to consolidate the activity to one location in Enger Park during the slower months of the season — being April, October and sometimes November, if we’re lucky. The reason why we’d do that is each day Lester Park and Enger Park both simultaneously stay open, we lose about $600 per day,” Gary Nelson, general manager for Billy Casper’s Duluth operations, said at a meeting this week.

There’s another problem: Golf is too hard, at least at one course. The city will consider closing the Lake 9 holes at Lester Park, which many golfers find too challenging. That would save $21,000.

“You would lose a well-loved golf course with a long tradition and a strong community. This would obviously be our last resort option that we’d want to go to. But you can see the savings of almost $180,000 if Duluth had one 27-hole golf course at Enger Park.”

  • BJ

    I’m not saying that they should or shouldn’t operate golf courses (or liquor stores), but I love how lowering expenses is ‘saving money’.

    Losing less money isn’t actually saving money, just like buying a new shirt on sale isn’t saving money. It’s spending less than expected. In the case of the shirt if you didn’t need (budget for) a new shirt, it’s an increase in expense. With the Golf course it’s reduction in budget. It’s only savings if doing so also reduces the taxes paid to support the city.

  • A Google search on the demographics of golf tells the story. Golfers comprise about 9.6% of the total US population. Over 3/4 are male, and fewer than 5% are under 30. Of all golfers, the average household income is $95K/year. So unless video gaming, paintball, disk golf, mountain biking, and a myriad of other more affordable attractions go away, golfers will continue to age and die off, meaning there will be a need for fewer courses.

    • Mike Worcester

      Demographics are definitely not on the side of the golf industry. Too many courses were built that are now used by too few people. I’m guessing it will not totally go away. After all, downhill skiing still survives, 🙂

      • Gary F

        Too many courses were made into upscale, very nice courses. The course where hacks could go or to bring your kid declined, thus having fewer people get into the game.

        • MikeB

          Yup, oversupply from the Tiger Woods and real restate booms.

      • Jim E

        I just checked the budget for my local (as in a block away) muni golf course. They lost around $25K in 2015, which was about 10% of their budget. They do, however, have a dedicated fund balance of well over $1M so I may be dodging the occasional mis-hit ball for a long while (the ones bouncing down the center of the road, as seen in _Tin Cup_, are the worst).

        I never picked up golf but my son and his friends learned the game through a very affordable summer junior league run by the city. Pretty sure, though, that most of them have moved on to other pursuits.

    • Kassie

      I feel like, at least in my world, that people my age don’t have time to play golf. Between work and family, everyone I know is at their limits. I think there was a time when Dad used to swing by to play a round while mom was home making dinner, but now picking up the kids, work and chores are all shared responsibilities.

      • Tim

        The people I know in their 30’s and 40’s who play golf mostly do it as a networking/business activity, where it’s easier to justify the time (and expense). Though a few just do it for fun.

      • KariBemidji

        My husband is only able to golf because he is a teacher, we live a mile from the course and he is the first person out there at 6:30 a.m. and can get in 18 holes in 2 hours. Otherwise, I don’t think he would golf that much for all of those reasons above.

    • LifebloodMN

      According to golf[dot]com, Minnesota has the highest number of golfers per capita in the union. Nearly 1 in 5 Minnesotans hit the course every year.

  • Gary F

    I golf only at industry or charity events. I don’t have the time and I can’t pivot on the left knee like I used to.

    Not sure which course it was, Lester or Enger, but one has a great hole at the top of the hill looking down at the lake. One of the best views ever.

    • I vowed when moving here from Massachusetts, that I would send to my Massachusetts neighbor who taught me the game, the scorecard of the round in which I broke 100.

      He has never received such a scorecard in the intervening 25 years.

      • Gary F

        I broke 100 on the nine hole at Highland National a few times.

  • CHS

    I read a fascinating tidbit from an interview with the Golden Bear who partly blamed technological advances in the golfball for some of the decline. The theory goes that with the new balls being so fast and traveling so far, the average person like me just hits it further and faster out of bounds, making the sport less approachable. Same goes for the courses. They are being designed for golfers that 99% of us will never be, making it so less and less people play them. Easy answer to why some people don’t play some courses; they can’t.

    That’s not to suggest that demographics and it being too expensive aren’t the main drivers… but I thought it was an interesting insight.