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Golf on a drive to lure more players with newer courses

November 25, 2018
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ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, NOV. 25 - In this Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2018 photo, Keith Freiter hits balls on the driving range at Delray Beach Golf Club in Delray Beach, Fla. The City Commission agreed at a workshop to invest more than $7 million in the city's aging course, which opened in 1926. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Golf courses are closing all over the country. But in South Florida, many are opening, reopening and renovating.

In Delray Beach this month, the City Commission agreed at a workshop to invest more than $7 million in the city’s aging course, which opened in 1926 at 2200 Highland Ave.

Delray Beach follows Tamarac, which paid more than $4 million to buy the Colony West golf course and improve it, and Boca Raton, where the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District bought the private Ocean Breeze golf course with a $20 million loan from the city and will rename it Boca National Golf Club.

Hollywood commissioners will decide in December whether to hold a special election to borrow money for several projects, including renovating two city-owned golf courses, Orangebrook and Hollywood Beach Golf Course, for $38 million.

These renovations and acquisitions show South Florida golf is at a turning point, said Richard Singer, senior director of consulting services at the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter.

“We’ve got a lot of aging golf courses, and you get to a fork in the road,” Singer said. “In South Florida, land is at a premium and the underlying property is so valuable.”

That’s why some golf courses decided to close down and sell their land to developers. The foundation reports 177 18-hole golf courses in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, down from 189 in 2007.

Nationally, while more than 200 golf courses closed in 2016, only 15 opened, he said.

South Florida’s golf course investments run counter to some national trends, which show golfers as an aging demographic that is not being replaced by a new generation. When Delray Beach golf players came out in force to support renovation of the city’s Golf Club, City Commissioner Ryan Boylston pointed out the makeup of those in the audience: retirees in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

“We need more programs to reach out to the rest of the community,” including youth tournaments and high school clubs, Boylston said.

This aging cohort is a concern across the country. Although there were about 30 million golfers in 2005, there were only 23.8 million in 2017, according to the National Golf Foundation. The number of golfers over age 65 increased 13 percent.

Still, there was some good news for those hoping for a youthful golf surge. The foundation reported 2.5 million beginning golfers in 2017, a 14 percent increase from 2015.

Delray Beach said the city will make efforts to attract these young athletes. Commissioners want the closing of golf courses in South Florida to become a business opportunity. They said they see Palm Beach County’s Osprey Point course in West Boca as a model: Golfers played 93,538 rounds there in 2016, versus only 59,120 in Delray Beach.

“If there are fewer courses, there’s an opportunity to bring more members to our course,” Commissioner Adam Frankel said.

Delray Beach player John Kaelblein agrees. He lives next to the city course and wants the city to emphasize its history, design by legendary architect Donald Ross and accessible location off busy Atlantic Avenue.

“The others don’t have the traditions we have,” said Kaelblein, treasurer of the Delray Beach Men’s Golf Association. “You have to be aware of the competition, but I think we can be every bit the equivalent and more.”

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Information from: Sun Sentinel , http://www.sun-sentinel.com/

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