Local golf courses try to find ways to revive interest in game
Doug Whitt hits a ball at the driving range at the Libertyville Sports Complex in Libertyville. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 8, 2012 8:06AM
Dennis Yankus of Libertyville likes playing the nine-hole, par 3 Libertyville Golf Course in Riverside Park because it’s relatively short and inexpensive.
“It’s best for my game,” he said. “I’m 74 years old so it seems like I get 10 yards less on each shot.”
Yankus also likes the price.
“It’s $10 per round. You can’t beat that. It’s just a little more than a dollar per hole,” he said.
Golf courses like Libertyville’s have had to work harder in recent years to attract golfers because of the economy and a nationwide decline in the golf market. Many golf courses in Lake County have seen a decline in golf rounds over the past decade. Local golf courses have begun offering special discounts, promotions or events to attract golfers.
“We haven’t raised our rates since 2009,” said Bill Brolley, head golf pro at Mundelein Park District’s Steeple Chase Golf Course in Mundelein. “We just didn’t feel it was any time to be raising rates with the economy the way it was.”
Steeple Chase continues to remain profitable, but like other courses, has seen a decline in the number of rounds played over the past few years. The course has been averaging just over 25,000 rounds a year, which is below the 27,000 to 28,000 rounds averaged in the mid-2000s, Brolley said.
In addition to not raising rates, Brolley said Steeple Chase has done several things to remain competitive. On Sundays through Thursday, kids accompanied by a paying adult can play the course for free after 4 p.m. The golf also has a loyalty program golfers can join, where they can get a free round of golf with cart if they play a certain number of paid rounds.
Being a par 3, nine-hole course golf course, the Libertyville Golf Course has faced even greater challenges than most 18 hole courses.
The Libertyville Golf Course has never been a money maker for the village, and with the financial downturn that started in 2008, has been running substantial operating deficits. In 2009-2010, the golf course had a deficit of about $92,000, according to numbers provided by Libertyville Finance Director Pat Wesolowski. The last two years the annual deficit has been in the $70,000 to $75,000 range, she said.
In an effort to increase golf revenue and the number of rounds played, Libertyville instituted several changes in 2011 including lowering the course’s rates. The cost to play per round was reduced from $13 to $10 for residents and from $17 to $13 for non-residents, according to Connie Kowal, director of recreation and the sports complex for Libertyville.
“The prices were not golfer friendly so we lowered our rates to encourage more people to play,” he said.
Kowal also began several promotional events and days to try to raise awareness and exposure of the golf course. For example, the golf course offers special daily promotions, such as a Kids Day on Tuesday, a Senior Day on Thursday and a Ladies Day on Friday, where those golfers may receive special rates or a free bottle or water or Gatorade with paid green fees. Kowal also started three new tournaments last year.
“We’re trying to encourage golf at all levels: youth, adult and seniors,” he said. “What golf courses need to do is be more creative in attractive customers.”
On the positive side, local golf courses have reported an increase in business this season due to the unseasonably warm weather this spring.
At Steeple Chase, rounds played so far are up about 83 percent compared to last year at this time, Brolley said.
“The weather we had in March just got us off to a great start,” he said. “We opened 10 days earlier than we normally do.”