Bob Gillespie



Global-golf warming: Play up nationally; with winter coming, S.C. prime destination

Posted 1/27/2013 12:04:00 PM

If it seemed to you that the weather all across the U.S. was warmer than in recent years, your intuition is correct. And while South Carolina’s weather was, by comparison, not drastically better than other states this fall, that’s about to change – dramatically.

According to the publication Golf Inc., record warm temperatures through the first seven months of 2012 – the warmest of any year on record – were at least partially responsible for a 10.6 percent increase in rounds played, compared to the same period in 2011. PGA PerformanceTrak reported the number of days that courses were open also was up 10.9 percent over the previous year.

“Simply put, the better weather has meant more golf,” Golf Inc. writer Christina Thomas wrote. She quoted PGA of America senior strategic planner Jon Colclasure, who said that “Golfers had the opportunity to take advantage of (more) available golf, which they did.”

Even with a dip in rounds in July because of the harsh heat in parts of the U.S., the overall success during the first half of the year offset that month. “Heat doesn’t eliminate rounds played the way cold weather or rain does,” said Tom Stine, co-founder of data compiler Golf Datatech. “It’s still possible to play. People just go early in the morning or later in the day.”

That was the case in South Carolina, which suffered mild reductions of play during a hot summer but bounced back with one of the state’s best fall seasons. And, as Golf Inc. noted, weather wasn’t the sole factor in the game’s rebound; the people in the golf business matter as much or more.

“Golf course operators are the key” to efforts to grow the game in 2012 “because they are the ones who interact with golfers or potential golfers,” Stine told Golf Inc. “The efforts by individual golf course (are) the key to unlocking the front door.”

The National Golf Foundation’s Greg Nathan says that rounds played nationally dropped from 500 million annually from 2002-07 to 490 million in 2008 (the start of the economic downturn) and bottomed out at 463 million rounds in 2011. But 2012, he says, was a turnaround year.

“If the rest of (2012) were flat,” he said in November, “we’d finish at 5.6 percent up. That’s more than 26 million rounds, and then we’re back to where we were in 2008.”

Good news for everyone in 2012. Now, though, with winter storms hitting states in the Midwest and Northeast that enjoyed a milder fall, South Carolina’s continued mild winter – with temperatures in the 50s, 60s and even 70s recently – bodes well for the state’s traditional off-season crush of play by snow-weary visitors.

Forecasts for early January have so far predicted mostly clear skies and pleasant temperatures. A state where locals traditionally hit the links on New Year’s Day (in the Midlands, some even wore shorts this month) is again primed to deliver great conditions for “buddy trips” and family vacations.

“It’s good to see the numbers turned around and up so much,” Golf Datatech’s Stine said. For South Carolina, that trend should only keep climbing between now and spring. But then, there’s almost never a bad time for golf here.