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Economy

Golf course managers hope players hit links

Bookings up but rising gas costs a concern

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Toledo area courses have tried several strategies to attract business, including lower membership fees.

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As local golf courses prepare for the spring season to start, many say they're hopeful that attendance will pick up as the economy improves.

Course managers who spoke to The Blade say the recent recession has caused the number of memberships and rounds played at their courses to be flat the last few years, as fewer people have been willing to spend money on the sport.

"It's tough for everybody right now," said Cary Long, manager of Riverby Hills Golf Club in Bowling Green.

The number of golfers at Riverby Hills has been steady, but slower than in past years, he said, declining to discuss revenues for the course. He hopes to attract new golfers by focusing on maintenance.

"We still try to keep the course as nice as we possibly can, and hopefully people will appreciate that," he said.

Maintenance also is a key strategy for Master Golf Management Group, the company that owns South Toledo Golf Club and manages Toledo's three public golf courses. Owner Greg Fish said the company has boosted its maintenance budget by 15 percent this year and is developing a stay-and-play package with the Park Inn to attract out-of-towners.

About 100,000 rounds of golf were played last year at the four courses managed by Master Golf.

Mr. Fish said the economy may be improving because bookings for golf leagues and outings have increased 3 to 4 percent from last year.

"I've always said that the money spent on recreation is a family's last money," Mr. Fish said. "They have other things to pay for first and if there's money left, they golf."

Though some local courses may be experiencing an early economic rebound, others say they're concerned that rising gas prices could drive golfers away from the green.

"If you would have asked me before the $4 gas, I would have said it was going to be a really positive year," said Tom Young, owner of Birch Run Golf Club in North Baltimore.

Mr. Young acquired the course in 2006 and has added new features, such as a new hole and three new ponds, to bring in golfers. He said the investment seems to be working; memberships and bookings for golf outings have increased from a year ago at Birch Run.

Tony Fuhrman, owner of Tamaron Country Club in Toledo, said his semi-private course has been able to fight economic pressures by lowering membership prices from $600-$800 in 2008 to $199 a year in 2009. The number of memberships at Tamaron jumped from more than 50 to about 325 during that time, and the positive response has encouraged Mr. Fuhrman to keep the discount.

He said the pricing strategy has also provided a competitive edge for Tamaron, since northwest Ohio has dozens of golf courses -- many of which have opened in the last 15 years.

"Since the golfer can go to any of those courses, we want to find a reason for them to come to our course," Mr. Fuhrman said.

The owners of Eagles Landing Golf Club in Oregon have advertised they want a lessee for the golf course, which opened in 1997.

Dennis Noneman of Noneman Real Estate Co. in Toledo, who is handling the deal, declined to comment.

Contact Sheena Harrison at: sharrison@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.

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