More of area’s 35 golf courses struggling to stay open

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More of area’s 35 golf courses struggling to stay open

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What do you think about the future of area golf courses and some cities’ efforts to subsidize their operating costs?

Share your thoughts by emailing mwilliams@coxohio.com.

If you don’t use email, you can mail your letters to: Michael Williams, The Journal-News, 7320 Yankee Road, Liberty Twp., Ohio 45044.

Don’t want to write a letter? Send your Speak Up comments to speakup@coxohio.com. This feature is for brief comments by readers who prefer to remain anonymous.

AREA GOLF COURSES FOR SALE

Ivy Hills Golf Club

Address: 7711 Ivy Hills Boulevard, Cincinnati

Listed: $2.6M

Acres: 98.87 acres

Course: Par 71, 18 holes

Beckett Ridge Golf Club

Address: 5595 Beckett Ridge Blvd., West Chester Twp.

Listed: $1.9 million

Acres: 156.03

Course: Par 72, 18 holes

Hartwell Golf Course and Recreation Center

Address: 59 Caldwell Drive, Hartwell

Listed: $770,000

Acres: 0.41

Course: Par 27, 9 holes

Golf courses are seeing fewer and fewer rounds being played across the country and in Ohio, which is one reason why a 24-year-old golf course in Mason closed last month.

There are about 35 golf courses, from Par 3’s to 36-hole courses, in Butler and Warren counties and some, like Crooked Tree Golf Course in Mason and Weatherwax Golf course in Middletown, are losing money hand over fist.

Crooked Tree general manager Jack Eifert said before the mortgage payment, the 18-hole course was losing $150,000 to $200,000 a year.

Middletown had to subsidize its 36-hole course about $400,000 for 2014, which includes a $225,000 debt payment for improvements made in the 1990s.

The housing community that surrounds the golf course is named for it — Crooked Tree Community of Mason — and has about 500 homes. Realtors promote the fact that this housing community is next to a golf course.

Middletown announced last week it will take serious offers to buy its municipal golf course. The city has serious budget concerns — 22 police and fire positions are at risk to be cut by 2015 — and the city is spending money to pay for a golf course it has to subsidize.

“In talking with national golf experts, we know there is an overpopulation of golf courses around the nation and an underpopulation of golf players,” said City Manager Judy Gilleland. “I would imagine we would continue to see a narrowing of golf courses over the next few years until we reach a balance (between courses and players).”

A request for proposals was sent out Friday by the city, and while Gilleland said she is uncertain on the number or type of responses that will be returned she said, “We’ve had a number of parties expressed interest in the golf course property over the past couple of years. Hopefully their interest will translate into a proposal.”

There are too many variables, and no one formula, to say what a golf course will sell for on the open market, said David Metz, NAI Bergman’s senior vice president of Development and Investment Service.

“It’s all over the board,” said Metz, whose company is marketing the former Hartwell par 3 in Cincinnati and Beckett Ridge in West Chester Twp. “It’s not about per acre. If you’re driving for a piece of real estate, it’s based on rounds.”

Weatherwax has a market value of around $1.2 million, a quarter of its worth a decade ago. Crooked Tree, according to the Warren County Auditor’s office, is valued at $2.1 million.

“The bottom line is they’re not making money, and in most cases they’re losing money,” Metz said.

Golf has taken a hit in recent years, said Tom Stine, co-founder of Golf Datatech. In its October National Golf Rounds Played Report, golf is down year-to-date by 4.4 percent nationally, and 6.9 percent in Ohio.

“There’s no doubt there’s been a retraction of golf courses in certain areas over the last now three, four years,” said Stine. “Overall, the golf industry has strengthened over the last couple of years. The concern about golf courses and closing had more of a local concentration, local concern than in an general national way.”

Stine said sometimes closing a course may be a “knee-jerk” reaction and is a business problem rather than a golf problem. Sometimes over-saturation of courses is the issue, and being more business savvy through creative promotion and unique business plans is what it takes to survive.

About five years ago, the city of Fairfield faced a watershed golf moment when it built its new clubhouse. It was losing money, needing to have subsidies to keep the operation afloat. After renegotiating its golf cart contract, deciding to operate the food service in-house, and reducing staff through attrition, Fairfield Greens is self-sustaining, said Jim Bell, Fairfield Parks and Recreation director.

“We basically break even,” he said. “That was with council giving the mandate, that before we could build the new clubhouse, that we could come up with the action plan. And that plan has come to fruition.”

Rounds are at the projected levels, down from 2012 which was an abnormally good year with people playing into December, he said.

“We’re all hurting, but some of us are hurting less than others,” Bell said.

But the financial pain felt by Crooked Tree, Eifert said, has “been on a steady decline” for the past four years.

“That’s why all the golf courses are struggling right now. I guess it depends on how deep your pockets are,” he said. “We’re not making any money.”

Peter Ryan, general manager at The Golf Center at Kings Island, said the surplus of golf courses was created “many, many years ago” when the golf industry issued a report that it could sustain a course built every day for a year. “And developers apparently took that to heart.”

He said “it’s a shame” to hear about Crooked Tree’s woes, and The Golf Center “is holding our own” through aggressive attraction of leagues and outings. And like many other courses that are successful, they’re holding flat in year-to-year numbers “which is quite an accomplishment considering the year we had (with snow in the spring of 2013).”

And the recession hurt, he said.

“Some people who were avid golfers, playing 15, 20 times a year, are maybe now only playing five times, 10 times because they got hurt by the recession and they want to prepare for the future,” Ryan said. “But this cleansing is necessary if you’re going to move forward in this industry.”

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