Though the Southern California Golf Association reports that the industry is doing fairly well overall, the Inland Empire region faces operations challenges, due to increased costs for water and energy, as developers seek new swaths of land to build homes and commercial space.
The Southern California golf industry is feeling the squeeze, especially in the Inland Empire. Golfers are fewer and farther between as older “core” gamers age out and younger people can’t overcome the financial barrier to join the sport, the the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported.
Meanwhile, on the operations side, costs for water and energy are rising, experts say. All that buildable land is irresistible to developers looking for new swaths to build homes and commercial space, the Bulletin reported.
That’s not to say golf courses are closing left and right. The Southern California golf industry overall is doing fairly well, according to the Southern California Golf Association. But the Inland Empire is feeling the pressure, said Craig Kessler, director of Governmental Affairs for the Southern California Golf Association. Increased demand a decade ago led to an over-saturation of courses and supply outstrips demand, the Bulletin reported.
In Rancho Cucamonga, the Lewis Group of Companies real estate development firm is in the process of acquiring Empire Lakes Golf Course to redevelop the land into homes. A zone change hearing may come as early as spring, the Bulletin reported.
In nearby Upland, plans were announced to shorten two of the greens at Upland Hills Golf Course to build 68 detached condos on 7.9 acres. The 18-hole public course and surrounding land now has 544 units. The plan may be the subject of hearings this fall, the Bulletin reported.
But there has been resistance to redevelopment plans for ailing golf courses. A group of golfers and community activists have expressed opposition to the Empire Lakes plan, citing traffic and environmental concerns, the Bulletin reported.
To the west, the Los Angeles County-owned Marshall Canyon golf course near the city of La Verne, which was the least profitable course in the Los Angeles County municipal golf system last year, was eyed by Lewis for redevelopment into homes. The plan was dropped after city leaders decided against the plan, which would have involved swapping the city’s interest in Sierra La Verne Country Club with Marshall Canyon, the Bulletin reported.
Instead of redevelopment, two formerly ailing golf courses in the high desert have seen business model changes when the privately owned Apple Valley Golf Course and Hesperia Golf and Country Club were bought out by their respective cities within the past few years, turning them into municipal courses, Kessler said.
The golf industry regionally and nationally, despite having enjoyed 60 years of growth up until the Great Recession, is facing two major challenges in the form of rising water and energy costs and the barrier of cost and time for people to enter the sport, according to Kessler.
“It is the quintessential middle class recreational activity, depending on disposable income and time,” Kessler said. “It’s not an enormous amount of time, but no doubt young people today have less disposable income and time.”
“Golf is an industry faced with the cost (to operate) rising faster than the capacity for some of its constituents to absorb it,” Kessler added.
Kessler and other experts say the industry is addressing these issues by offering shorter play times or courses, deals on playing fees, an emphasis on better customer service and full adoption of recycled water irrigation, the Bulletin reported.
At Whispering Lakes Golf Course in Ontario, the rate was reduced by $10 after 10 a.m., according to Gary Nichols, head golf pro and instructor at the course. Nichols, who helps manage the golf course, said business had dropped about 10% last year, the Bulletin reported.
“It’s obviously concerning,” Nichols said. “That’s why we’ve had to do all these specials and deals. I’ve also adopted the Get Golf Ready program, to bring in new golfers that haven’t played and wondered whether they wanted to play. It’s a group class instead of an individual, private one. It’s in a group setting and a lot of beginners like that better.”
Brandon Brook, 54, has played golf at Empire Lakes since it opened two decades ago. He agrees with the strategies the industry is employing to address a drop in participation, the Bulletin reported.
“I always see local golf courses packed up in the mornings and lighten up in the afternoons,” Brook said. “Now they’re starting to put up bargain golf programs, and I think it’s a good way to draw people in. I think the biggest thing we have to do now is make it affordable and then we’ve got to get our youth involved at a young age. I’ve seen more and more, a lot of the younger children out there.”