Golf properties like Crown Point Country Club in Springfield, Vt., Rutland (Vt.) Country Club, and Woodstock (Vt.) Inn & Resort are competing with neighboring clubs for the dwindling pool of golfers, battling over “who can give it away the cheapest.”
Struggling Vermont golf courses are teeing off against each other, trying to undercut one another’s prices and specials as membership and play decline, the Woodstock, Vt.-based Vermont Standard reported.
“We’re in a competition with each other and we’ve done this inward spiral to see who can give it away the cheapest. It’s become tough to charge a reasonable rate to pay the bills around here,” said Richard Vacca, Head Golf Professional of Crown Point Country Club in Springfield, Vt.
Fewer people playing golf has created a “backwards pricing war” with neighboring clubs, according to Vacca. “All we’re doing is stealing from each other,” Vacca said. “People chase that introductory rate around.”
Across the state, golf courses are reeling. About 65 golf courses are part of the Vermont Golf Association today, and they collectively have 8,500 members. The “boom-time” for golf was back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when there were about 10,000 members in the state, the Standard reported.
At Rutland (Vt.) Country Club, membership is “not even close to where we were 15 years ago. It probably never will be back there, either,” said Head Professional Greg Nelson, who has been on the job for 20 years.
The course has about 350 members, down from 500, 15 years ago. “You don’t have the people here to support it,” Nelson said.
Professionals and general managers have some opinions on why golf isn’t as popular as it was back in the 1990s and 200s. Some say the rounds are too long (4-4.5 hours). Some say the sport isn’t attracting new people, the Standard reported.
Whatever it is, “the number of people exiting the sport, based on age or warmer climate, has grown,” said Vermont Golf Association Executive Director Dave Pfannenstein. A glut of options and less people has forced clubs to slash their prices.
The Woodstock (Vt.) Inn & Resort started making use of golfnow.com two years ago, a website that sells discounted tee times. In exchange for cheaper tee times, Woodstock at least appears busy, the Standard reported.
“Our philosophy is a little revenue is a better than no revenue,” said Chuck Vanderstreet, the inn’s director of recreation.
The Woodstock Country Club has about 150 members now, down from the 200 or so it had back in the mid-1990s. “We fight for every golf round we can attract. I don’t think there’s any golf course that does one thing. Everyone’s got specials and special programs,” Vanderstreet said.
The inn started running an introductory membership starting at $1,200 to “try to get some younger community members to join our club,” Vanderstreet said. “We noticed that a lot of our members are 50 years old and that was a concern for us.”
Twenty-five new members took advantage of that membership last year. Ten have purchased that membership so far this year, The Woodstock Inn and Resort.
The Quechee (Vt.) Club, a members-only golf course, has stayed level in the past 15 years, with 1,380 members. It’s easier for the club to sustain membership because members have to pay dues after they buy a piece of land, the Standard reported.
“We could always use more money,” said Ken Lallier, Quechee Club’s property manager. “We’re starting to explore bringing in outdoor revenue beyond membership. Raising the dues is never a popular subject. Our alternative is to bring in more outside revenue…by doing that, we anger the folks that want it to be private. It’s a fine line we walk.”
Some say the answer is creativity, not lower prices, the Standard reported.
“We’ve got to start thinking outside the box and maybe start thinking of something different than 18-hole golf courses,” said Vacca, who suggested building six-hole courses or placing larger cups on the greens for beginner golfers. “We’re trying to do things to make golf more fun.”