Recently, I played nine holes at Whispering Woods with the Titanium Whistles group in under 90 minutes.

Slow players are the bane of golf. They take the enjoyment out of the game, as do high prices charged for equipment.

My favorite tool is a number 7 utility club that I bought for seven bucks in Aberdeen. Golf need not be a game just for the wealthy. Some of the best long iron players I know are still using clubs they bought many years ago. Newest and costliest are not necessarily the tickets to assured low scores.

The last serious recession shook the golf industry severely. Many fine golf courses disappeared from the scene or were badly bruised. Golf clubs that carried unrealistic debt suffered for their financial recklessness. Here, The Pit, Woodlake, Little River, The Bluff and The Carolina closed or are lying fallow. Quail Ridge, a course with a checkered past, is thankfully experiencing a renaissance.

I find that more aficionados of the game are prognosticating a brighter future for the game than was the case just four or five years ago. I spoke not long ago with four men who are extremely knowledgeable about the sport. They are Tom Stewart, PGA member and owner of Old Sport in Pinehurst, who first caddied at age 10; Jim Moriarty, well-known and respected golf writer and now the editor of PineStraw magazine and featured by The Golfers Journal — he knows all the top players; longtime Pilot columnist and magazine editor Jim Dodson, whose golf books are among the very best; and Doug Ford Jr., who has devoted his professional life to the sport and is still teaching it here.

These men know the game, its history, its people, and care greatly about its health and well-being. They grew up with golf and have seen its highs and lows. Despite its many unique challenges related to participation, particularly by young men and women, they have confidence that the sport will continue to find creative ways to attract enough golfers to remain popular in America and around the world. They are particularly impressed by recent efforts to encourage kids to take up the game.

For instance, Ford admires the First Tee program, which he notes fills the “caddie void.” In the so-called Golden Age of Golf, young boys and girls caddied to make an extra buck. That priceless experience taught them the game, including its special etiquette. It allowed them to watch adults play and behave with high respect for the sport.

Those generations of young caddies created a cadre of golf enthusiasts, many of whom became devoted players. The introduction of golf on television then raised the sport to a new level of national and international enthusiasm that persists today. Watching players competing this past week in the U.S. Amateur Tournament revealed a high level of interest in golf. It also showed how incredibly talented our amateurs are.

Several of the men commented on golf’s “financial bubble” that burst earlier this century after reckless over-building. They acknowledged that this phenomenon has been happening for over a century in America. Golf has endured two World Wars, a Great Depression and several recessions, yet managed to always bounce back, albeit each blip has seen hurts to the heart and to the pocketbook. Dodson noted that in the 1930 to 1934 era, half of America’s courses closed or nearly did. Here the Tufts family endured those hardships and more to create what is now the golf capital of the world. Fortunately, the Dedman family has continued in the Tufts tradition. Pine Needles and Mid Pines are equally blessed with a management that treasures golf’s best traditions.

In 2017, my wife, B.J. Dunn, and I co-authored “Great Donald Ross Golf Courses Everyone Can Play – 2nd Edition.” It describes the history and playing characteristics of 91 of Donald Ross’ courses open to public play. In an earlier 2001 edition, we reported on 100 of his courses.

In the 16 years between editions, the Ponce de Leon and Punta Gorda golf clubs in Florida closed, as did the historic Roosevelt Memorial in Warm Springs, Georgia. In Massachusetts, Petersham’s land was sold to Harvard, and Winchendon School’s course closed. Richmond Pines in Rockingham closed. Rogell in Detroit is now a cemetery! The Balsams in New Hampshire has been closed for over six years. Whether it will ever raise needed financing remains a big question.

If another recession hits, golf courses that are financially weak will again be in for a rough ride. Golf is vital to Moore County’s economic well-being and sports-oriented social life. My hope is that its future here will be rosy. Fore!

Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at paulandbj@nc.rr.com or www.donaldrossgolfcourses.com.

(1) comment

Kent Misegades

“Golf is dying, many experts say. According to one study by the golf industry group Pellucid Corp., the number of regular golfers fell from 30 to 20.9 million between 2002 and 2016. Ratings are down, equipment sales are lagging, and the number of rounds played annually has fallen.”



The good news is that local golf course owners admit there is a problem and are working to stem the decline here. Fact is, most people approaching retirement today are not planning to play golf, as our parents did 25 years ago. Higher taxes and declining pensions mean people must work for more years. The migration of 50-something government retirees from the north with their fat taxpayer-funded pensions will come to an end. Like any business, golf must adapt or it will continue to decline. Our local golf industry seems to understand this and is doing something about it. Where though is a local mini-golf centers like those neat ones on the coast? That’s how most people get their first experience with golf. Great place for a cheap date for teenagers, too.

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