After years of turmoil, MN golf hoping for rebound

State of Minnesota golf

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. – Like so many weekend warriors hacking around a golf course, the business of golf has been stuck in a deep bunker for years, but authorities in the Minnesota golf community say this year the business might be chipping out.

Since the economic recession, even the strongest golf courses have been forced to adapt to a smaller customer base by tightening budgets and adding new attractions, trying to weather the storm with hopes of a golf rebound.

"There is a correction that is going on, not just here, but everywhere," said Tom Ryan, executive director of the Minnesota Golf Association. "And we are probably going to see more golf courses closing before we see another one opening up."

From 1990 to 2006 -- the golden years -- nearly 150 new courses opened in Minnesota, according to the MGA. But when the economy collapsed in 2008, so did golf rounds.

From 2009 to 2013, the number of rounds played annually in Minnesota dropped from 12.5 million to 10.7 million respectively, a 14 percent drop, according to the National Golf Foundation.

The dip in business was catastrophic as 28 courses have closed shop since 2006, according to the MGA.

"The supply just far exceeded the demand for tee times so the owners and operators, private clubs as well, just weren't getting the number of people they needed," said Ryan.

At Braemar Golf Course in Edina, a five year decline in rounds played began to inch back up last year, and this year, the course is off to a promising start, according to course general manager Joseph Abood.

"We are fighting for the recreational dollar and we've got to go against pretty much everyone out there," said Abood. "We are already up over 3,000 rounds over our previous year, so it's a fantastic start."

Economy aside, golf has another challenge to figure out, how to attract the next generation of players.

One way to do that, in theory, is to make the game easier.

"Back in 2011 we kind of rebranded our facility," said Troy Malo, director of golf at Pebble Creek Country Club.

Pebble Creek, located in rural Becker, has taken 9 of its 27 holes and branded them as 'The Local 9' where players have an option on each hole to play for the traditional 4 ¼ inch cups or the new, double-sized 8 inch cups.

"They even use these for men's club tournaments just to change things up a little," said Robert Stern, superintendent at Pebble Creek.

The same nine also features a soccer-style foot golf course with 21-inch cups in the fairway.

Customers can play either of the three holes at one-third the price of its championship course, $7 for kids and $15 for adults.

"We've seen our season pass number for just that 9 holes go up, we've seen a lot more kids using the facilities and we are seeing a lot more local residents here using the facilities," said Malo.

Pebble Creek isn't alone as more and more courses are buying into the big cup concept.

Par Aide—based in Hugo—manufactures 8-inch and 15-inch cups and hole cutters to courses around North America.

"We've probably sold to 500 or 600 golf courses across the country," said Dan Brown, sales and marketing manager at Par Aide.

Like an adjustable rim in basketball or a tee in baseball, Brown sees larger cups as a big draw for young golfers.

"There's no reason to go out there and spend five hours and have a miserable time cause you got beat up on a golf course when you are a nine year old kid. You want them to have fun," said Brown.

Will the new marketing of golf work? Will golf rounds finally spring back? We'll have a much better idea come October.


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