July 20, 2006

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

Back in February this community breathed life back into a regional asset that by many accounts quite possibly could have been on its last legs. Thanks to a generous donor as well as the hard work of hundreds of boosters, Timber Ridge Golf Course in Memphis was able to regain its financial footing when a massive fundraising effort helped eliminate the courseís long-term debt load.

But while the course escaped the financial burden, it still faces a difficult situation, one that is not unique to only our little northeast Missouri course. For numerous reasons, golf as a sport, is on a decline.

According to the Golf Business Magazine, the industryís leading publication, 95-percent of golf courses across the United States are concerned with the national decline in the number of golfers. Seventy-one percent of golf courses reported declining numbers of rounds of golf played at their course and 68-percent cited retention problems for membership.

While Timber Ridge did not participate in this survey, it would only have caused the numbers to go up. The number of players, the number of rounds and the number of memberships being renewed from year to year, have all declined since Timber Ridge experienced its boom period a decade ago when grass greens were constructed at the nine-hole course.

Americans are faced with more and more demands on their personal time banks, so it is no wonder that free time for golf has diminished for many. If you do the math, that means that the peripheral golfers, those folks that werenít playing a whole lot to begin with, likely have given up the sport. That nasty math comes into play again, when you start adding up the financial impact of the declining number of golfers. While fewer members mean less income for a course, it doesnít mean less expense. The cost of maintaining a course generally only goes up, regardless of the number of golfers. Therein lies yet another quandary faced by most private courses Ė lower member numbers means higher membership rates.

So basically declining membership is one of the main components of declining membership. Less members means higher dues for those that remain. It also means more work for the members, since there are fewer to carry the load of volunteering to run the tournaments and other events that are held to help raise money to keep the membership dues costs down.

Boy, Iím painting a pretty bleak picture. Makes you wonder if Iím mad at the country club, or maybe that I might have some land development plans for the golf course ground.

Quite the contrary Ė Iím hoping to bring past members back and entice new ones. While I understand that gloom and doom stories about golfís decline, combined with commentary on growing membership fees and increasing workloads for members arenít the greatest recruitment tools.

But itís in troubling times like this that the true diehards pull together. Faced with these issues, Timber Ridge Golf Course is making strides in the opposite direction. Members are finding ways to supplement the courseís income with raffles, a regular bi-weekly Texas Holdíem fundraiser, and other moneymakers. Tournament organizers are going the extra yard to try to entice more players to attend Timber Ridge events like last weekend when the annual womenís tourney packed the course with a record number of teams. Members are hitting up their friends and neighbors trying to interest potential members to return or to give golf a try for the first time.

Iíll play my part in the goodwill campaign by letting readers know how much fun golf is. Not only do I enjoy playing in menís league on Thursday nights or getting together with friends early on Sunday mornings, but my wife and I also have a lot of fun playing together with other couples on the regular Friday night social outing. Thatís one aspect that I think escapes a lot of potential golfers. For most of us who arenít the best golfers, the sport offers a unique social aspect. I donít ever play in a tournament expecting to win. I simply have fun.

Itís here where Iíll insert a shameless plug for Sundayís one-couple golf tournament at Timber Ridge. Tee time is 10:00 a.m. on July 23rd. Knowing that my golf probably will be lacking, as tournament coordinator, Iíve scheduled a catered dinner courtesy of Ellen Aylward, to follow the completion of golf. So no matter how bad I golf, Iíll eat well. Hopefully you will play well and eat well too.

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