As Madison officials decide what to do with the city’s struggling golf course system, a new report has found that demand for golf in the area will likely decrease in a decade.
The report found that the area’s golf course market is over-saturated and that demand for golf rounds will begin to decrease as the baby-boom generation ages and plays less golf.
While the analysis, prepared by Edgehill Golf Advisors for city officials, found that the number of golf-playing Wisconsinites is twice the national average of about 7 percent, the number of golfers nationwide has steadily decreased from a high of 12.1 percent in 1999.
In addition, the number of public golf holes in the Madison area has swelled from 162 in 1999 to 351 in 2014, leading to a market that is “significantly over-supplied way in excess of an over-supplied national market,” the report said.
Charlie Romines, Madison’s assistant parks superintendent, said while it’s encouraging that the demand for golf is double the national average in Dane County, it’s troubling that the market is so overbuilt in the area.
The analysis comes as Madison officials are looking for ways to reverse years of budget deficits for the Golf Enterprise — the body that is responsible for Madison’s four public golf courses — while finding money to pay for repairs needed across the system. Suggested solutions have included closing some of Madison’s 72 golf holes or lobbying for a city subsidy.
There are “considerably fewer” golfers in the 18 to 44 year-old age group than those between the ages of 55 to 75, who play more often than their younger counterparts, according to the analysis.
And although the number of rounds nationally has stabilized in recent years, in 2016 there was more than a 10 percent decrease from a peak of 518 million rounds played in 2000.
“I think this report pretty well ends any discussion of having 72 ... holes or even the rationality of trying to sustain that level of supply,” Romines said.
He said the impact of baby boomers playing less golf in the next decade could be lessened in Madison because of its younger-than-average demographics. Also, he also, the over-supply issue could be improved if other courses in the area would close over the next decade.
The report was prepared to help guide city officials as they make decisions regarding the future of Madison’s 72 holes.
To help pay for repairs and make the Golf Enterprise sustainable, the Golf Subcommittee has looked for ways to increase revenue and pay for repairs.
Capital needs for the system, which was meant to be self-sustaining, are estimated at $5.9 million to $8.6 million — including up to $4 million for Yahara Hills Golf Course alone.
Last month, the group said it preferred to close all or some of Yahara Hills’ 36 holes over closing and selling the 9-hole Monona Golf Course.
The Golf Subcommittee has also asked for city money to keep all four courses open and to help with capital improvements, but Mayor Paul Soglin has said he’s opposed to giving money to the golf courses.
The 2018 city budget doesn’t include any money for the courses.
The consulting company’s report said that Yahara Hills should be closed if its drainage issues aren’t fixed. It also said if there isn’t any money for those repairs, Monona Golf Course could be closed and sold to pay for repairs at Yahara Hills.
Raising prices to increase revenue isn’t a viable option because the saturated market has led to intense competition in the area, according to the report.
The Parks Commission likely will make a recommendation by February or March, said David Wallner, a member of the Golf Subcommittee and Parks Commission. That recommendation would then go to the City Council for approval.
“The report pretty much confirms what we’ve been talking about — that the sport is on a down slope,” Wallner said. “It’s a tough situation.”
The Golf Subcommittee meets on Jan. 4. The Madison Parks Commission meets Jan. 10, when it is expected to discuss the report.