Rounds played were up 6.4 percent over 2011, the largest year-over-year increase since 2000. It marked the most tangible sign that the industry had launched into full recovery after the doldrums of the recession.
Part of the increase in rounds played can be attributed to the number of days open, which were up 6 percent in 2012.
The overall jump in rounds played was led by huge jumps in in the Midwest and Western U.S. Arkansas was the only southeastern state that saw an increase. Rounds played in Mississippi were down 13.2 percent.
Randy Watkins, who owns three golf courses in the Jackson area and operates a total of five statewide, said his numbers lined up more with the national trend, and that his rounds were up by about 7 percent, as were club memberships.
“We did a few more rounds in January and February than we had because it was relatively warm and dry,” he said, adding that the PerformanceTrak figures were “pretty close” to what he saw at his facilities. “That definitely got us ahead of the game. Golf can be habitual. And the earlier in the year folks can play, the more the play the rest of the year. Starting to play earlier in the year is the main thing. People like to play with certain groups. They have a certain game they play. They play certain days. It’s sort of like working out. If you get in the habit of it, it’s easier to stay in thehabit, and it’s easier to do that when the weather’s really good.”
On top of that, the overall economy started to show clearer signs of shedding the recession-induced stagnation. The unemployment rate crept down, as did gas prices. But it’s hard to overlook the positive effect of January and February being warmer and drier than usual.
“By and large, that had a lot to do with it,” Watkins said. “I think that’s a big as factor as any. The economy’s still not great, but I think there was just enough of a bump that people thought they could play.”
Jackson attorney Will Bardwell, an avid golfer, said his time on the course was up considerably last year. “For one thing, I got married in 2011, and my wife likes for me to get out of the house every now and then,” he said.
Another, he said, is the improvement of the golfing options nears his home. Particularly striking is the improvement of LeFleur’s Bluff, a nine-hole course that is part of LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.
Bardwell praised Watkins’ management of the course, which was temporarily closed until it could be refurbished.
“And let’s face it,” Bardwell said. “The economy is just better now. Compared to where we were two or three years ago, I don’t bristle as much at the idea of dropping 30 or 40 bucks to spend an afternoon chasing Bridgestones into the woods. So I definitely played more, not that my scores reflect it.”
Watkins said the bottom of his drop during the recession came when his overall business was down 25 percent. “The rounds never fell that far, but memberships really did. But that’s come back, and of course the rounds have come back, too.”
He has reason to be optimistic that 2013 will build on 2012.
“The more comfortable people are financially, the more golf they play. You have to have disposable income.”
Watkins said his facilities depend on economic development as much as the cities and counties that make pursue large projects. “We definitely ride the coattails of thinks like Nissan and Toyota,” he said.