While the rains will dissipate and the courses will dry out, lost revenue cannot be recouped. Superintendents have been forced to rope off soggy areas and direct golfers and maintenance staff to drier ground, but have still had to retrieve several mowers and carts that have become bogged down in the sloppy turf.
Golf courses want to be swamped with golfers, but they don’t want to turn into actual swamps.
Many courses, however, were close to doing so after rain fell 21 days in April to set a record Worcester (Mass.) Telegram reported. Matt Moison, head golf pro at Green Hill Municipal Golf Course in Worcester, said he normally checks the weather forecast online as soon as he wakes up each morning, but he stopped doing that a couple of weeks ago.
“Because it doesn’t change,” he said.
The rain actually stopped and the weather warmed up for a few days last week, but showers and cooler temperatures were forecast to return and remain for several days, according to the Telegram report. The wet spring arrived after an even wetter autumn for most golf courses in Central Massachusetts.
“The fall was the worst fall that I have ever seen in 30 years in the golf business,” Moison said, “as far as playable days. There were days last fall we couldn’t open. We put golf carts in the barn, we sent staff home. We just couldn’t open.”
“Last fall, we were towing golf carts out left and right,” Gardner Municipal Golf Course head pro and manager Dan Berry said. “It’s not that wet this year.”
Berry estimated that business dropped 50 percent from September through the end of last season and 20 to 25 percent this spring, the Telegram reported.
Heritage Country Club drains well, but owner Bill Plante said last fall accounted for the wettest conditions he had seen in his more than 40 years at the club, according to the Telegram report. Even though it rained often this spring, the amount of rain wasn’t as much. Plante estimated business dropped 25 to 30 percent both last fall and this spring.
“When you put the horrible fall on top of the horrible spring,” Plante said, “that’s the most challenging part. Just weathering the storm. No pun intended.”
Jack Negoshian, who has been head pro at Westboro Golf Club since 1988, said, “Last fall was probably our worst fall in all the years I’ve been here. This spring, the weather conditions have been the worst I’ve seen.”
Negoshian said the amount of play hasn’t dropped off as much as he imagined it would, but Westboro hasn’t been able to rent carts as often, the Telegram reported.
Green Hill hasn’t closed this spring since opening for the season and has kept carts available, but the amount of play is down, according to the Telegram report. Moison said Green Hill’s lost income was “not astronomical.” He said the course lost a higher percentage of rounds in the fall because of inclement weather, but more money in the spring. That’s because Green Hill is usually busier in the spring than in the fall.
“When the weather is good,” Moison said, “we are busier than any normal April day. People are itching to play, but the weather has just not cooperated. We are extremely wet.”
Green Hill, Gardner and Westboro are municipal courses and their fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30, the Telegram reported. So, the financial hits they took last fall and this spring occurred in the same fiscal year. Memberships and golf leagues are mostly pre-paid so poor weather doesn’t affect them as much, but daily greens fees have suffered at most courses. So how do you make up for lost days?
“You don’t,” Moison said. “You cannot get days back. I don’t care if it’s golf or life. The day is gone and you cannot get it back. We just hope that people come out and play. We run specials and promotions all the time, but the day is gone, never to be seen again.”
“The golf carts and greens fees we’re considering as a lost cause,” Berry said, “because we can’t cram extra days into the golf season. We just hope and pray that we have a stretch of really good weather through June 30.”
Moison said the biggest impact of the rainy fall and spring has been the inability to open Green Hill’s new driving range, the Telegram reported. The range was supposed to open last year, but the seed that was planted last fall washed away and the range has been too muddy to redo most of the work.
Some courses offer more than golf, so they don’t have to rely so much on the weather. Pine Ridge CC in North Oxford had two golf simulators that golfers used last winter and will have three this winter because the demand was so great, the Telegram reported. Up to 100 people competed in a cornhole league at the club on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the winter and the club’s restaurant remained open three nights a week in the offseason.
“We’re a full-season golf course,” Pine Ridge director of golf Chris Coogan said. “Golf courses must adapt and bring other aspects like cornhole, like the golf simulators. We’re even talking about putting in a game room in the basement for the members and doing birthday parties and stuff like that. You’ve got to utilize the space you have. Golf is great, but it’s all weather-dependent and if you don’t have other things to fill in, it’s tough to survive. I couldn’t imagine how other places do.”
Coogan called this spring probably the wettest Pine Ridge has ever had, the Telegram reported. Only 11 holes were ready for play when the course opened on April 11 and all 18 holes didn’t open until May 6. Because the ground is so wet, some areas haven’t been mowed, and mowers have gotten stuck in other areas.
“Honestly,” said Jason Brostrom, who is in his 13th year as superintendent at Green Hill, “the only thing that saves this place from having 2-foot-tall grass is that it’s 40 degrees every morning. So the grass shuts down at night thankfully. If it was 50s and the sun came out every couple of days, then we’d be in trouble keeping up with the grass.”
That began to happen last week, the Telegram reported. Warmer temperatures and sun would be welcomed as long as it didn’t continue to rain.
The rain has kept some golfers away and limited golf carts to cart paths when possible. Some courses don’t have cart paths that extend from tee to green on every hole so superintendents have roped off and placed plywood on wet areas, and erected signs and drawn lines and arrows to steer carts to dry ground, the Telegram reported. Nevertheless, carts and mowers have gotten stuck in the mud. A fairway mower at Green Hill got stuck in the mud twice on the same day.
“I’ve had to send guys out to fix ruts,” Brostrom said, “not a typical job we spend time on. Got to get it before it hardens up because then you’re in trouble.”
Brostrom said standing water has remained in some fairways since they thawed out from the winter and that rotting organic matter was beginning to smell, the Telegram reported. No one, however, has seen a golfer carry a fishing pole in his golf bag, at least not yet.
“I have seen people golfing in galoshes,” Brostrom said, “and I don’t blame them.”
As usual during a wet spring, the Assabet River overflowed into the eighth and ninth fairways on the Riverside Course at Juniper Hill in Northboro, the Telegram reported.
“They’re starting to dry out,” General Manager Dudley Darling said. “So I figure we’re due for more rain.”
When the Assabet overflows, Juniper shortens the par-4 ninth to a 200-yard hole by moving the tee up the fairway beyond the wet area, according to the Telegram report. Two years ago, Darling saw a golfer with his pants rolled up to his knees picking golf balls out of the Assabet River overflow on the ninth fairway.
The good news about all the rain is that except for the mud, the golf courses are green, very green, but you may hear a squishing sound when you step in certain areas, the Telegram reported. Although some golfers are waiting for better weather, courses are playable despite the wet conditions. Drives may plug, but soft greens will hold nearly every approach shot, including those from hybrids. You may have to putt on greens covered by worms, though.
Plante is hoping for great weather for the rest of the golf season.
“After last fall and even last spring was lousy,” he said, “being in the business for so long, you say, ‘OK, we’re due for a good spring. We’ve been snakebitten enough,’ but nope, we didn’t get one. We got hit harder than the other ones. You’re like, ‘Come on, Mother Nature.’”
“Most golfers grin and bear it,” Moison said. “Golf is an outside game. It’s not climate-controlled. That’s part of what golf is. You play in wind, you play in rain, you play in heat, you play in the sun. Part of the enjoyment of golf is being outside. It’s when you’re outside and it’s raining every day that it starts to hurt a little bit.”
Brostrom told the Telegram he refuses to allow the rain to bother him any longer.
“I’m done complaining,” he said. “Let’s just get over it and deal with it. It doesn’t do us any good. Let’s just keep plugging along and in a month or so we’ll be begging for rain.”