The same pattern was observed in the bowling business in the late 1990s. Over-saturation with too many bowling centers, increasing costs to participate and several outside factors all but destroyed the sport in Wisconsin and throughout the country.
At one time, Pewaukee, Hartland, Okauchee and Oconormowoc had as many as eight bowling centers. Now just one center remains, Mappleway Bowl in Oconomowoc, with just eight lanes.
Many people thought the same thing would happen to the sport of golf, not only in the Lake Country but around the state and in so many parts of the country. Over-saturation was considered to be the biggest problem, while rising cost also threatened to keep many regular players off the courses.
Two significant U.S. economic recessions definitely hurt the sport in 2001 and again in 2007 through 2009. Popular courses suffered a decrease of business, estimated between 10 and 20 percent, and even more depending upon location.
Some golf websites have reported business down nationally by about 10 to 15 percent since 2005. Hundreds of courses have closed, and there’s no doubt business will never be anywhere like it was in the 1980s and 1990s.
While public play is down throughout the country, outing for corporate events or fundraisers have surged. League business is also doing well locally. Senior golf has come on strong in the last 10 years.
Lake Country doing well
While just two courses have been closed locally, the golf business is mostly defying the national downward trend in Lake Country.
Thanks to affordable pricing, good playing conditions and friendly service, many Lake Country courses continue to enjoy solid footing.
At the top of that list is Ironwood Golf Course in Merton. Celebrating its 20th year in business this summer, Ironwood is the busiest and most successful public course in the area. Golf director Mike Lehmann has the place humming.
“Our business is strong, and there’s no doubt that our league pay and our outings business is responsible for much of that,” Lehmann said. “On Monday through Friday, our evening leagues are sold out on all three nines. Plus, we have a huge couples league every other Friday, and that league has 130 players. That’s business we know we can count on, on a consistent basis.”
Lehmann also said the outings business has changed dramatically over the last ten years.
“When we first opened, about 80 percent of our outings were business or corporate events,” Lehmann said. “Now, it’s all about fundraisers. That’s probably 90 percent of our outings business”.
Western Lakes Golf Club in Pewaukee is also enjoying a good four-year run of improved business. Owned by Greg Essig, Western Lakes has kept the course in outstanding condition and put together a competitive pricing schedule.
“Across the board, we’re doing well,” Essig Said. “League play is good, our outings business has been very consistent and out membership also has increases, as well. Plus, I think we have the largest junior program in the state.”
Essig said Western Lakes has 350 young golfers in its junior program, ranging from ages 6 to 13.
“Senior golf has become a big part of the golf business around here, too.” Essig added. “They travel to different courses every week, and some of those groups have a lot of players. We’re always happy to have the seniors here as often as we can.”
Naga-Waukee, one of the busiest courses in the state for more than 40 years, is still going strong, even though it’s not putting up the high numbers they did from the 1970s to the mid 1990s. This summer, Naga-Waukee had a couple of days when it pushed 250 to 275 players off the first tee.
The new owners at La Belle Golf Club in Oconomowoc took on a tough assignment when they bought Rolling Hills Golf Club last July. The course had had been closed for a while and had to re-establish itself in the local market.
“With Rolling Hills being close, that’s something that we had to battle to overcome,” co-owner John Meunier said. “We had to get the golfers back to our course. Years ago when it was named La Belle Country Club, it was one of the most successful private clubs in the state. We’re constantly working on the course to return it to its once outstanding conditions. We’re getting nothing but positive responses.”
Meunier, who sold off equipment for years for Cleveland and Sxirion, said he and his other owners are pleased with the increase in business since opening a little wore than one year ago.
“We’re picking up more outings all the time,” Meunier said. ‘We’re also working on increasing our league play. The nice thing about outings and leagues is that they’re the backbone of your business. Both are business you can count on each week. To tell you how w’re doing, I use my own parking-lot indicator. When I look at the parking lot, the number of cars out there tell me how we’re doing. And we’ve had a lot more cars this year than we had last year.”
Private clubs doing well
Private golf clubs in the area are also doing well.
Oconomowoc Golf Club, which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this season, is once again at its maximum number of members at 175.
“I’ve been here the last eight seasons and we’ve been full each year, said Chuck Wood, the golf professional at OGC. “In the state golf circles, we’ve built up a very good reputation. That’s a testament to what we’re doing. We host a lot of WSGA events each year, and we get nothing but positive comments about the course condition and the entire experience they have with us.”
Chenequa Country Club, also more than 100 years old, has been one of the most successful private clubs in the state for many years. The club has 221 memberships this year.
“We’re full with our present membership and have a big waiting list to join,” said club manager Mike Paddock. “Business is good.”
The two other private clubs in the area, the Legend at Brandybrook in Wales and the Legend at Bristlecone in Hartland, are huge successes. They also operate and own the Legend at Merrill Hills in Waukesha.
“Business has been very good for us,” said co-owner/director of golf Jack Gaudion. “Between the three clubs, we have 1,400 family memberships. Of that, there are 910 golf memberships. It’s a healthy environment for us. The Lake Country is a special place. We’re proud of what we’ve done here.”