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Published: Tuesday, 8/3/2004

Public golf courses slice fees in hope of luring more players

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Players started lining up at 11:30 a.m. at tiny Cherrywood Golf Club in Ottawa Lake, Mich., and by early afternoon the parking lot was packed.

But golfers weren't caught up in LPGA fever.

They were there to shoot nine holes for $2. Amid slowing sales and increased competition, many public golf courses in the Toledo area are scrambling to come up with deals to score customers.

A few have tried to capitalize on the Jamie Farr Owens Corning classic, a Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament being held this week in Sylvania. To mark the event, Whiteford Valley Golf Course, Ottawa Lake, is offering $11 off the usual $21 weekday rate for 18 holes mornings and afternoons through Thursday.

But most of the specials are ongoing.

The Rev. Daun Nowak, of Temperance, brought two grandsons and a son-in-law to Cherrywood, on Whiteford Center Road, yesterday to take advantage of $2 golf, which will be offered from noon to 3 p.m. Monday to Thursday through Aug. 12.

"I wouldn't otherwise be here with the temperature at almost 90 degrees at noon," he said, smiling, as a midsummer sun blazed overhead.

Andrew Smith manages Cherrywood, which cuts rates four days a week from noon to 3. Andrew Smith manages Cherrywood, which cuts rates four days a week from noon to 3.
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Since the promotion began July 1, 100 to 150 golfers have shown up daily to play. That's a threefold increase over usual business on admittedly slow weekdays, personnel said. "You can't play Putt-Putt for $2," quipped a grounds keeper.

And Cherrywood isn't alone.

Golf course operators cite a variety of reasons for the abundance of discounting, ranging from the area's sluggish economy to high gasoline

prices that are keeping people from venturing to courses in outlying areas of Toledo.

But the biggest factor seems to be a leveling off of participation in the sport and a building boom that added many more courses locally and nationally in the 1990s.

Construction peaked in 2000 with 400 courses added across the nation that year, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Since 1990, more than a dozen public courses opened in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

However, according the Golf Foundation, participation nationally grew just under 1 percent in the three months ended June 30 compared with 2003.

The meager gain followed a 3 percent loss in the same period in the prior year.

Meanwhile, in a situation at least partially influenced by wet weather in the early spring, Midwest courses had between 2.5 percent and 5.5 percent less play in the second quarter compared with 2003, according to the foundation.

"We're not in the most robust economy," observed Nelson Snellenberger, golf director at Whiteford Valley. "People are looking for bargains."

He has responded with a range of specials.

In one, a family of four can play 18 holes on weekends after 2 p.m. for $22.

Discounts at Wolf Creek Golf Club, Adrian, Mich., include a Thursday special that runs until 1:30 p.m. and offers 18 holes, use of a golf cart, and a hot dog and a beverage for $15.

Municipally owned Collins Park Golf Course, Toledo, offers nine holes, use of a cart, and a package of balls for $13 to players who arrive by 11 a.m. any day of the week.

Not all course operators are happy about the discounting.

"We do not discount our rates and we are doing fairly well," said Bill Johnson, general manager of Bedford Hills Golf Club, Temperance.

"The discounting is wrong. It's hurting our industry. More specifically, it's going to hurt the courses that are doing it."

But players like Jim Keiser, of Toledo, said they will keep hunting for deals.

"I'm a senior," he said as he finished nine holes at Cherrywood. "I'm a bargain player. I won't play on weekends anymore because it's too expensive."

Another player, retiree Kermit Ball, said he doesn't believe the discounting is hurting participating courses. "They're improving cash flow," he said.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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