News Column

District meeting links golf courses' futures to new players

February 25, 2014

By Allison Petty, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.



Feb. 26--DECATUR -- It is no secret that Decatur Park District leaders have grappled in recent years with financial challenges in running the district's three golf courses.

The themes are familiar: Fewer people are playing, nationally and locally. The city's population is declining. Income is growing slowly. Unemployment is rising. In a fast-paced world, and people just don't have the time.

Those factors loomed over the park district's golf focus group event Tuesday night at Scovill Golf Course Banquet Facility as more than 70 attendees grappled with the ongoing question: What's to be done?

Park district officials have been clear that they need to attract more golfers, particularly kids and young adults. They have stressed, as they did again Tuesday, that they are open to suggestions.

"If you do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always got," said Kurt Rogers, the district's golf manager.

Comments from golfers in attendance largely focused on aspects related to their experiences at the courses or the cost to play. Examples include questions about the possibility of developing golf cart paths at Hickory Point Golf Course, resuming the practice of taking credit cards to hold a tee time or establishing an annual golf cart rental fee.

One golfer wondered whether business wouldn't be better if the park district decreased the cost per round to $10.

"You could use that theory in a population that was increasing. You might generate more rounds of golf," answered park district Executive Director Bill Clevenger. "... The idea that we're going to create a bunch of new golfers in a declining population, just by reducing price like that, you might create a few, but you've got to make up that differential of the price reduction as well."

Most of the golfers who showed up Tuesday were older than the age demographic that the park district is seeking to lure. One exception was 26-year-old Kyle Wiese, who asked about the possibility of establishing a league for young professionals and holding networking events at the golf courses.

Wiese said he wished there was a more aggressive outreach from the park district to attract people his age.

"If you just tell people to call the golf course, they're not necessarily always going to do that," Wiese said. "... The park district probably needs to get active on social media, Instagram, all that good stuff, and just do a little bit better job of getting the voice in their ear."

Clevenger said the park district subsidizes golf an average of $160,000 per year. Board members must decide each year how to balance the needs for golf with the rest of the park system, which includes Scovill Zoo, the Decatur Indoor Sports Center and a slew of neighborhood parks.

"Everybody in the community has different interests," he said.

Speaking after the meeting, Clevenger said the discussion was likely a thought-provoking one for many of the attendees.

"I think there are a lot of people who left scratching their heads about, how do we address this issue so that we can grow this game again?" he said. "Because most of the people in this room knew golf in Decatur when there were 180,000 to 190,000 rounds of golf. Today, they're going to see 75,000 to 80,000 rounds of golf. How do we move that forward? I think there are more questions right now than there are answers. "

Park district Commissioner Jack Kenny said the event had a great turnout of interested golfers. While the park district is interested in addressing complaints whenever possible, Kenny said there are some requests that just can't be fulfilled. There are no easy answers, he said.

"There are a number of people who just want golf for less expense, and we'd like to provide that, but when the number of rounds are going down, we can't cut our fees," he said.

apetty@herald-review.com|(217) 421-6986

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(c)2014 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)

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Source: Herald & Review (Decatur, IL)


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