Monday, June 27, 2005

Clubs left in the closet

The public golf course a couple of miles down the hill from my house, in northeast Pennsylvania, has been mostly empty this summer, even more so than last year. I walked the course on Saturday with a friend and it was empty. A few years ago it was packed every rain-free weekend and crowded on weekdays. This is not a luxury club but it has four very attractive nines. You can golf in your blue jeans and a T shirt if you like. The course mainly attracts working class golfers, with a very large percentage coming from New Jersey and New York City, groups of cops and firemen for example, and industrial workers.

My impression, supported by years of driving by the course parking lots, was confirmed by club employees I met at the supermarket. “I don’t know where everyone went.” one said. “Golf is over” another said, “except for the luxury courses,” and then went on to cite a competing, slightly more upscale course that went bankrupt this year.

There could be a lot of reasons for the waning local interest in golf, but my guess is there are two basic reasons. One is economic. People are more worried about money than before. They can’t justify spending a $100 dollars a day on golf, counting expensive gas, food, beer and green fees. Many are also working longer hours than ever before and can’t blow off a Saturday on golf because there are more urgent demands on their time.

The other reason is attitude. People (in these mostly blue areas) seem less playful, tenser than they were in the peaceful, even joyous Clinton years. They are also more fearful of losing jobs, retirement, health benefits and so on and I think they feel keenly alone, expendable and under a government that does not include their interests in its agendas. Not many among the depressed and anxious care to pass a frivolous day on the links.

Anyway, it seems likely that during a move from prosperity to depression the impact will first be felt on the fringes, like public golf courses. Those that depend on customers who drive hours to get there will also give early indication of the impact of more than $60 per barrel oil (today’s price).

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