GORDON WHITE: Golf Doesn't Escape Harsh Economic Reality
While the nation's economy is tanking and most politicians have no idea what to do about the matter, it seems clear we are in a recession even though that is a forbidden word among some of these pols who refuse to talk the truth.
Just ask the average Joe or average Jane how much he or she has left over after buying just a few gallons of gas, the week's groceries or school supplies for the kids and their new shoes.
That leftover money used to be the discretionary spending that allowed for a family trip to the movies, a weekend at the beach, a fishing trip off the Outer Banks or possibly a round of golf for Dad and Mom and even the kids as they grew up.
Therein lies a major problem facing the Sandhills of North Carolina, where golf has been the primary industry for generations. Discretionary money is hard to come by for many folks these days. Ergo, fewer rounds of golf.
Although we celebrate the conclusion of the oldest annual golf tournament in the United States today at the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, we must realize that the 108th United States Golf Association's Men's Amateur Championship has been a happy week for the area during a year that has been far from a booming success for golf and all it means to our region.
In fact, golf business is down quite a bit around the world, particularly where tourism golf is essential to its success. I recently read a Dublin newspaper that noted six major golf resort construction projects in Ireland were shut down before ground breaking that had been scheduled for early this year.
Don Padgett II, president and COO of Pinehurst Resort, said, "The year is not going to be a good year for us. But that has nothing whatsoever to do with our competitive schedule such as this U.S. Amateur and the recent U.S. Kids tournaments here."
The U.S. Amateur, however, stands as a highlight that Pinehurst Resort is very pleased to host and hopes to stage here in the not-too-distant future, along with the U.S. Open that is obviously going to return to Pinehurst time and time again, starting with 2014.
Padget said, "For us, the Am is not a money-making proposition at all. The Am for us is an honor to host and something that certainly goes in line with the Resort and with what the Tufts built on and what Mr. Bob Dedman loves to continue. There just isn't anything about the Am that is monetary, including the purse.
"If we were open to all business, instead of holding the Am, we would be better off financially. But that isn't even a consideration. We are happy to host it and want to host it as often as the USGA will have it here. It is part of our culture and what we do."
Although Pinehurst Resort and Country Club is the best-known and oldest golf complex within Moore County and the Sandhills, it is not necessarily typical of many of the golf course venues in the region. Pinehurst Resort has long depended upon major corporate outings for a good deal of income each year while numerous other golf courses locally depend a lot upon the twosomes, foursomes and small groups playing pub links golf.
In both cases, however, discretionary money is important, be it individual money or corporate money that used to be spent on promotional golfing to woo customers.
"What has happened to us," Padgett said, "is that corporate America is suffering and so our group business is down considerably. Without that, it is impossible for us to have a good year while our group income is down like this."
Another large source of income for Pinehurst Resort is from its members of the Pinehurst Country Club. But even there the income is down, according to Padgett.
"Our members are people like everyone else," Padgett said. "And they are looking at what is going on. People are cutting back on discretionary spending for the first time in a long time. The members' spending this year is down about 10 or 15 percent."
Padgett pointed out that nationally "golf equipment sales are down."
He concluded that "if golf equipment sales and golf ball sales are down, then there's less golf being played. People are buying less and playing less so I doubt anyone is having a banner year in the golf business."
Summing up, Padgett said, "Here's what I would say: The financial health of Pinehurst Resort is stable. I wouldn't say to you our outlook is great or bad right now. It is stable. There is uncertainty as to what lies ahead. I think you play the hand you're dealt. But we'll weather it."
Small businesses such as restaurants, boutiques, etc. are hurting and some are even closing in the Sandhills because golf business is down. When golfers stop coming to the Sandhills, other businesses suffer.
Real estate sales are down as well.
Individually, none of us can do much about the situation or change our nation's economic outlook one twit. But collectively we can certainly change those who are screwing up everything they touch.
That can be done when Pinehurst considers itself to be in one of its "high seasons" -- in November.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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