In case you haven’t noticed, golf courses are sprouting up around Central Florida quicker than the dandelions in your front yard.
Over one-third of the 108 18-hole golf courses in Central Florida have been built in the past 10 years, Forty-two to be exact.
And the numbers keep growing. There are another 20 or so either under construction or in the planning phase.
But where are all the golfers?
While new course owners still talk about what a wonderful market Central Florida is for golf, those who have been around awhile admit that it’s not an easy market.
“Five years ago, getting play was not a problem, but now, we really have to work at it,” says Brad Hauer, general manager of MetroWest Country Club. “There is no question the popularity of golf isn’t keeping up with the building of golf courses.”
The woes are echoed throughout the golf community.
“In the overall market, the feeling is that business is down,” says Ron Parris, general manager of Timacuan Country Club.
The boom started in 1988, when the National Golf Foundation issued a report saying the golfindustry needed to open a course a day across the country to keep up with demand.
The golf industry responded – much more than anyone could imagine. For the past five years, more than 400 golf courses have been opened per year in the united States.
But while that was happening, the number of people who play golf remained around 25 million, meaning that the new golf courses simply cannibalized each other’s business.
“There is that feeling,” says Bill Burbaum, spokesman for the National Golf Foundation. “But it is a tough thing to judge. I don’t see many courses going out of business.”
In fact, only a couple of area golf courses have been closed in the past decade, but golf courses that want to keep drawing business are having to try new marketing tricks to get golfers to play their links.
Anyone listening to sports radio or reading the sports pages of the paper have noticed. The airwaves and newsprint are filled with so many golf course commercials that they all seem to run together.
Others are trying nontraditional marketing to lure players.
For instance, Diamond Players Club, owners of Wekiva Golf Club, launched a large.media campaign when it bought the course a few months ago.
But it also started wacky weekdays, where the course holds daily longest drive and closest-to-the-pin contests in which winners get free dinners or a free round of golf.
Gregg Gagliardi, president of Diamond Players Club, sees the promotions and marketing campaigns as a result of change in the golf business.
“I think what is happening is that there are more professionals in golf,” he says. “Golf is becoming more of a business.”
In Lake Mary, Timacuan has responded to competitive pressure by going after group business and the millions of tourists that flock to the Orlando area.
“We’re part of the Greater Orlando Golf Destinations, whose sole purpose is to market Orlando as a golf destination,” Parris says. “We are trying to let people know we have some of the best golf in the country.”
Gagliardi and others say the Orlando golf industry is sheltered from the hardships other states have because of year-round play and the number of tourists who flood the area each year.
Gagliardi pins the drop in the golf business on the downward turn of the tourism industry over the past few months.
“I just think that it is a symptom of the tourists not being here,” he says.
But Tom Horan, marketing director for the East Central Florida Chapter of the North Florida Section of the PGA, says the industry has overbuilt for today’s market.
“We do have more courses than the market can bear right now,” Horan says. “I think we’re in a lull until the younger people grow up.”
While the number of golfers playing regularly has remained stagnant, the number of young golfers is booming, mostly because of Tiger Woods’ popularity.
Most golf courses are trying to feed the young golfer’s desire to play by implementing junior golfprograms. For instance, Diamond Players Club offers weekly golf camps throughout the summer.
“I truly believe that once the young golfers grow up, you will see business rebound,” Horan says. “I say that because I’ve never seen golf as popular as it is today.”