U.S. golf course developers are on track to post the lowest number of openings in two decades. Measured in 18-hole equivalents, 65 courses have opened so far this year and NGF estimates, based on the number of courses currently under construction, that another 10 to 20 will open by December 31. That would bring total 2008 openings to 75 to 85 18-hole equivalents, the lowest number in more than 20 years.
"This is the second time this year we have lowered our forecast of golf course openings," says Joe Beditz, NGF president and chief executive officer. "The economic situation, particularly the continued decline in the housing market, has and will continue to suppress golf course development activity in the U.S."
As NGF tracks golf courses that are projected to open during a given year, it's not unusual for many of them to be delayed into the next calendar year or even put on hold indefinitely. This year, due in part to a sluggish economy, more projects than usual are being delayed. Looking at courses that were projected to open recently, there are a variety of reasons cited for the delay:
• Waiting for the housing market to pick up
• Construction taking longer than expected
• Financing issues
• Snags in the permitting process
While openings continue to fall, so do course closures. So far this year there have been 74 verified course closures and NGF currently forecasts the number of closures to be less than 100 by year's end. There were 146 closures in 2006 and 122 in 2007. Therefore, it appears that 2008 will be the third year in a row with zero to slightly negative net growth in supply (openings and closures canceling each other out). NGF points out that closures continue to be disproportionately public, stand-alone 9-hole facilities or short courses (executive or par-3 length) with a value price point.
Rounds Down in September
Rounds played volume in the U.S. was down 7.5 percent in September 2008 vs. September 2007, according to the National Rounds Played Report, a joint effort of Golf Datatech, NGF, PGA of America and NGCOA. The year-to-date figure is down 1.4 percent.
The global economic crisis and plummeting consumer confidence must be considered the primary causes for the decline (as opposed to weather), given that almost all areas of the country posted losses.