Soggy links' revenues sink

June 11, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

Call it a water hazard.

After a harsh winter and a spring with plenty of rain, golfers have been teeing off less and golf course maintenance crews have struggled to take care of fast growing, soggy greens.

The wet spring also means golf courses are making less money.

John Kain, the course superintendent at Black Rock Golf Course, said the weather is completely different from last year when drought conditions plagued courses.

"I've been praying for rain for the last four years," Kain said. "I've gotten four years' worth of rain in two months."


May's rainfall of 8.21 inches set a record and so far in June, 5.08 inches of rain has fallen, according to the Web site of Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer.

While last year's drought led to dry turf, this winter's snowfall and the spring's plentiful rain have opened up springs on the Black Rock course that have been dormant for years. It makes for well-watered grass, but difficult-to-manage fairways, Kain said.

"It's stressful every year. There's very few years when the weather's totally cooperative. It's either wet or dry," Kain said.

On Monday, Black Rock allowed golf carts to run on the paved paths between holes, but banned them from grass, fearing they would tear up the grounds.

Charles Egender, 56, who traveled from Harford County, Md., to play in a tournament, said players were "doing an awful lot of walking even if you have a cart. But any day on the golf course beats a day in the office."

Brothers Scott Ford, 30, and Eric Ford, 35, both of Hagerstown, worked in the morning but were out for a round Monday afternoon, playing in bright sun.

"That's why we're here. This is perfect," Scott Ford said.

Balls are slower and harder to find and putting is less accurate, players said.

"It has been tough. ... They can't keep it mowed down," Scott Ford said.

Other courses in the area have suffered as well.

Ben Fasano, a shop assistant at the Chambersburg (Pa.) Country Club, reached by phone Wednesday, said the club has canceled tournaments due to the inclement weather.

"We got killed," he said. "We can't send our carts out. ... A lot of our members have to ride or want to ride. They won't come out if it's raining or we don't let our carts out."

Fasano said a 144-person tournament was canceled within the past few weeks. This past weekend, a tournament that drew more than 50 teams last year drew only 39, and for the second day of play on Saturday, only 18 teams returned because of the rain.

"Nobody's playing, and nobody can predict the weather," Fasano said.

Craig Kastle, the general manager of Locust Hill Golf Club in Charles Town, W.Va., said business has been anemic thanks to the weather.

"I've never ever experienced the kind of weather that we've experienced in the last 40 days," Kastle said.

The number of rounds of golf played this year is down 26 percent from the same time period last year, he said.

"We can't get those rounds back. ... Maybe we might get lucky this year and we might have a mild fall," Kastle said. "You can't beat the weather man, I don't care who you are."

Yingling's Golf Center near Hagerstown had to shut down its driving range Sunday, and part of its parking lot has been flooded out, an owner said.

"The winter was terrible. ... March and April were pretty good," and then the rain started, said Judy Grier, who owns Yingling's with her husband David.

"Definitely, revenue and everything is down from the rainfall," she said. "It's been challenging to operate a seasonal business."

One of Hagerstown's Municipal Golf Course club attendants said players there aren't allowed to take golf carts on the course.

Bobby Rowley, a clubhouse attendant at the Hagerstown course, said business could be down as much as 40 percent over the past week.

"It's soft, soggy and muddy," Rowley said. There have been problems with some of the fairways near Antietam Creek, one hole had to be shortened, and golf carts - a major revenue earner - can't be used until the course dries up a little, he said.

Darrell Whittington, Black Rock's golf director, said that between July 2002 and now the course has been closed more than four months because of weather, while in previous years the course was open basically year-round.

"I would say that we're probably 15 percent or more down," Whittington said. "We just need some sun."

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