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Despite Tough Economy, Golfers Play On

By Matt Hombach

Throughout Baltimore and across the country, gas prices are up, home values are down, stocks are tanking, and 401K plans are underperforming. Despite the economic downturn however, it seems as though golfers are soldiering on, finding a way to get their weekly rounds in, buy a dozen ProV1s when they need them and still be able to pay the mortgage each month.

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While the sluggish economy hasn’t affected the amount of golf Marty Storck of Harford County plays this year, he has noticed it has taken a toll on a few courses in his area.

“I’m a member of a private club, so I play most of my golf there, but Swan Creek Golf Club recently closed and now Beechtree, one of the best courses in the entire state, is going to close,” Storck said. “You have to believe the economy is having an effect on the game if that is happening.”

“The funny thing is, both of those courses were sold to real estate developers, and all you hear about is how bad the real estate market is, so the golf business can’t be doing too much better.”

Storck added that he felt economic conditions may not be as bad as perceived and that the media pumping up stories of financial woes makes things seem worse than they actually are.

“By and large, I think people pay attention to the media and are influenced by that,” he said. “When they hear the economy is bad, they spend less, so I think golfers are being pickier about where they play.”

While you can debate how bad the economy really is, there’s no denying gas prices and airline ticket costs are higher than ever, keeping many golfers closer to home this summer.

“I have been thinking about cutting back on traveling to play golf,” Storck said. “But for this year I’ll still do my regular golf trip to Florida and I always go with a group to Pinehurst. It will be a more expensive trip, but it won’t stop us from going.”

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Gaithersburg resident Ryan Deleon plays Baltimore area courses regularly. While higher gas prices have limited his spending in other areas, he doesn’t have to cut back on his golf thanks to his favorite playing partner.

“I’m lucky because my dad usually picks up my greens fees for me since I’m still in school,” said the 21-year-old Virginia Tech student. “I definitely play closer to home though and won’t make as many trips to courses further out.”

Chris Johnson of Parkville agrees with Deleon, but still plays as much as he can.

“Gas prices have definitely affected how much people play,” Johnson said. “I’m not as likely to head out to a great course that requires a long drive to get to. I’d rather play close to home at a municipal course.”

While the price of gas and other necessities has risen, the cost of golf seems to have stayed relatively unchanged.

“It does seem like greens fees have stayed about the same and prices haven’t gone up at the courses,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is though, if you like to play golf, you are going to play no matter what. It is still an affordable luxury, you just have to be smart about when you play.”

“Golfers are looking for deals. I’ve found courses are a lot more crowded during twilight time when rates are low.”

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William Spencer, an avid golfer in his 70s from Kingsville, used to make regular treks north of the Mason Dixon Line to play at the courses in Pennsylvania that normally offered lower greens fees.

“With gas prices much higher, we are better off playing down here,” he said, “plus the prices up in York aren’t that much cheaper anyway.”

Many local courses report increased rounds this summer, but across the county golf equipment sales are down. Thrifty golfers are definitely looking for their best deals on greens fees, but may be skipping the purchase of a new driver or set of clubs.

Issue 3.31: July 31, 2008