Economy

As recession runs its course, golf industry takes a hit

Even when the going gets tough, die-hard golfers will play.

Pro-tournament watchers are focused on South Florida this week as the WGC-CA Championship gets under way Thursday at Doral Golf Resort & Spa. But passion for the game has kept even average duffers on the links in the deepest economic downturn in decades.

The golf industry, however, has taken a hit.

The number of rounds played on Miami and Fort Lauderdale courses fell 5.4 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to the National Golf Foundation, based in Jupiter. Palm Beach courses saw a smaller 1.3 percent slide last year.

The revenue collected by golf courses dipped 3.8 percent from 2008 to 2009, partly reflecting the discounts many courses are offering to lure golfers, according to data from PGA of America in Palm Beach Gardens.

Publicly traded companies that sell golf equipment saw double-digit declines in sales in 2009.Callaway Golf, a maker of clubs and balls, said sales fell 15 percent from 2008 to 2009. Another club maker, Adams Golf, suffered a 19 percent drop. Retailer Golfsmith International, whose 74 stores include one in West Palm Beach, saw an 11 percent dip.

To combat the downturn, private golf clubs and hotel courses are offering discounts and value-added packages to attract golfers.

When it's not mobbed with tournament players and fans, Doral brings in out-of-town players by offering packages that include a two-night stay, continental breakfast, two rounds of golf on one of the club's four premier courses, complimentary play on its courses and a free golf clinic.

The package for the club's famous Blue Monster course is the most popular — and also the most expensive, at $359 per player per night in winter, says Christopher Bielski, Doral's director of sales and marketing.

The packages helped boost club sales 5 percent in 2009; so far this year, sales rose 8 percent.

At PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, golf memberships have held steady, despite a $40,000 initial fee and dues of $9,000 a year, Vice President Joel Paige said. The resort has sweetened the pot with small incentives such as reduced rates for carts.

Matt Chamberlain, a Miami Shores resident, said he hasn't cut back on how much he plays. But he is hunting for discounts, such as the "twilight rate" many courses offer for players willing to tee off after 3 p.m.

"Some course are crowded in the morning, but they're really crowded in the afternoon (now). It's a significant savings" to play in the afternoon, Chamberlain said.

For instance, twilight play at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Broward County jumped 20 percent in 2009 and is up an equal amount this year, said Jamie West, the resort's director of golf.

The Westin Diplomat has partnered with travel wholesalers to help boost sales and is offering hotel and golf packages as well. Still, the Westin saw a 35 percent drop in tournament outings and a drop of about 40 percent in rounds played by hotel guests.

"Everyone is watching their pennies," said Andrew Pozzi, manager of the course at the Miami Shores Country.

Read more of this story at MiamiHerald.com

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