U.S. golf course supply levels off, but course closures expected to continue

Golf course supply in the United States has been dropping the past 15 years, as many courses closed due to financial problems and others were redeveloped into housing. The industry is down 1,606 18-hole equivalent golf courses since 2009. But the decline may be coming to an end.

The National Golf Foundation found that only 60 18-hole equivalent golf courses had closed by July 1, 2021, and it projects 100 by year’s end. That is a smaller number than in prior years, and related to the fact that the industry has reached an equilibrium between demand and supply. But that doesn’t mean more courses will not close.

“The number of golf course closures in the U.S. is never going to drop to zero,” Joe Beditz, CEO of NGF, wrote. “Regardless of industry, many small businesses close their doors every year. Some because the market has changed. Others because they misjudged the market to begin with. And still others because an economic ‘higher and best’ use exists for the property. This last reason has become more common for older golf courses located in or close to growing population centers, where there’s high demand for land parcels that can be developed.”

That continues to be the case for several recent closure announcements.

Farmstead Golf Links, a public course in Calabash, N.C., was sold to a developer who will turn the course into a housing development. The course is only 20 years old, but owner W.J. McLamb is about to turn 90 and said he needed to divest himself of the course.

“I figured at my age I needed to make some changes,” McLamb said. “I can’t keep up this pace for the next 10 years. Things evolved and I decided I needed to get out.”

Since 2001, there have been more than 30 course closures in the region.

“That’s the industry,” McLamb said. “We all overbuilt back in the 1990s and it had to change. It couldn’t continue like it was.”

In Canton, Ohio, Skyland Pines Golf Course has seen its last day as an operational course. This past Labor Day was the final day of golfing, and the course and banquet hall complex, totaling 139 acres, was sold to an undisclosed buyer. Steve DiPietro, who owns the course with his family, said he couldn’t comment about the specific details of the deal, but noted it was opportunity that they couldn’t pass up.

“It’s also an opportunity that’s going to be great for Stark County and Canton,” he said.

Forest Oaks Golf Course at Lucerne Lakes in Palm Beach, Fla., is going to be replaced with a 450-unit residential development. Or at least, that’s the plan. Canadian homebuilder Mattamy Homes is under contract to buy the course, but the move is being met with heavy opposition by locals. Multiple petitions with more than 700 signatures were received by the county planners, with the complaints mostly saying that local homeowners purchased their homes on the golf course with the expectation that the land would only ever be a golf course.

“People purchased these homes based on the reliance that the recreation area would always be there,” said land-use attorney Lisa Reves.

Other concerns included the loss of the golf-course views, as well as the amount of dust the land development would produce.

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