At least five golf courses in the San Francisco Bay Area have closed in the past year, and Kevin Kobayashi, General Manager of Monarch Bay GC in San Leandro, predicts that 10 more will close over the next two decades before demand exceeds supply. There are currently 115 golf courses in the region.
At least five Bay Area golf courses have closed in the past year—Sunol Valley (Calif.) Golf Club just two weeks ago—and those in the business say more are likely to follow, the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News reported.
“In the Bay Area, we’re seeing a lot of inventory of golf courses and rounds available, and there’s just not as high of a demand as there once was in the late 1990s,” said Kevin Kobayashi, General Manager of the public Monarch Bay Golf Club in San Leandro. “Over the last 30 years, probably 15 to 30 courses opened that created that market saturation.”
Kobayashi predicts 10 more Bay Area golf courses will close over the next two decades before demand exceeds supply. One of those could be in San Jose, where city officials are considering closing one of three municipal courses, the News reported.
Changing lifestyles and golf’s economics have been factors in the sport’s decline, and more specific to California have been water costs that have risen as much as 500 percent in some places. And some golf course operators have given in to the temptation to sell their land to developers, the News reported.
“We definitely are concerned about the trend,” said Kevin Merfeld, a spokesman for the Northern California Golf Association.
Despite the closures of Shadow Lakes in Brentwood, Sunol Valley between Pleasanton and Fremont, Springtown in Livermore, Pine Meadow in Martinez and Grayson Woods in Pleasant Hill, there are still approximately 115 courses in the Bay Area, from Vallejo to Morgan Hill and Livermore to San Francisco. They are a mix of private country club courses, for-profit courses and municipal courses, the News reported.
Ever-busier personal schedules with less time for playing 18 holes have had an effect, too. “With two kids, family obligations and a job, finding four hours to play can be hell,” said golfer Matt Siegmund. Paying for the clubs, accessories, greens fees and cart is also a considerable factor, he added.
In the South Bay, San Jose’s public nine-hole Pleasant Hills course closed in 2004, and other area courses—Blackberry Farm in Cupertino, Sunken Gardens in Sunnyvale and San Jose’s three city-owned courses—have recorded steady drops in play, according to a city of San Jose report.
San Jose opened two of its three courses in 2003, when interest in golf was peaking. But both courses have been money-losers ever since. San Jose’s 18-hole Los Lagos course averaged 136 rounds of golf a day in fiscal year 2014-15, down 28 percent from its 2003 opening year. Its nine-hole Rancho del Pueblo course averaged 65 rounds in 2014-15, down 45 percent from 2003, the News reported.
“The business model established when these courses were opened is no longer working,” said Steve Hammack, deputy director of San Jose’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We’re consistent with the national trends regarding golf.”
The city has budgeted $2.6 million in golf course subsidies for 2015-16, but city officials are weighing whether to convert one of the three courses to other uses, perhaps soccer and/or baseball fields, or open space. Hammack said the city will ask residents whether they want the fairways and greens preserved or would rather the land be used in other ways. A recommendation to the San Jose City Council, he said, could come in March or April, the News reported.
California’s drought has compounded matters. Most courses don’t have the luxury of drawing from a nearby lake, as does Oakland’s Lake Chabot Golf Course, or having their own well, as Diablo Creek Golf Course in North Concord has. Expensive and/or hard-to-obtain water was cited as a key factor in the Sunol, Martinez and Livermore closures, and it affects most courses, the News reported.
”Water is a huge issue, and golf courses have gotten creative in trying to conserve here and there,” Merfeld said.
Water woes also helped lead to the December 1 closure of the Shadow Lakes Golf Club 18-hole course in Brentwood. The same management operates the adjacent Deer Ridge Golf Club, which uses less water and remains open, the News reported.
Merfeld said course operators should consider diversifying their operations or beefing up the ones they already have. Some Bay Area courses already host Frisbee golf, with baskets in lieu of holes, and footgolf, involving soccer balls and correspondingly larger holes. Merfeld also mentioned “Top Golf,” in which players drive microchip-enhanced golf balls to targets. Many golf courses host restaurants and/or bars; some also host weddings. But that doesn’t guarantee success, and Sunol Valley had to cancel 22 planned weddings when it closed, the News reported.
Monarch Bay in San Leandro is trying another tactic to lure golfers: packages that include greens and cart fees, food and beverages for one price. “We’re trying to get people who are willing to drive a little bit farther because of the deal,” Kobayashi said.
Kobayashi works for American Golf Corp., which runs both private courses and municipal ones, including Tilden Park Golf Course in Berkeley and Summitpointe Golf Club in Milpitas. The company’s collective buying power means better prices from vendors, an advantage that city-run courses don’t usually have. “If (cities) don’t bring in a management group to run it, they will lose money,” he said.
Rounds played at Diablo Creek Golf Course, owned by the city of Concord, have stayed steady the past four years. “We’re pretty much holding our own,” said Lenny Williamson, the golf shop manager there. “People are still coming out to golf in Concord.”
But even things at Diablo Creek aren’t what they once were. In 1985, the course had more than 800 members who paid extra for preferred tee times and other perks. Now, there are about 210. “There are a lot more golf courses now,” said Williamson, adding that many players who now go to newer East Contra Costa courses used to come over Willow Pass to Concord, the News reported.
While the Northern California Golf Association’s “Youth on Course” program and the “First Tee” program in San Jose aim to attract youngsters, Joe Denton, of Pittsburg, discovered the sport later in life. He was playing his fifth-ever round of golf one recent afternoon in Pittsburg.
“I live four blocks from the course; I can play here for $30—you can’t beat that,” Denton said. “And I’m recently retired; I’ve got plenty of time.”