After 'worst September,' golfers soak up sun and courses try to diversify

Golfers were out in numbers Wednesday afternoon to enjoy the 17 C weather, helping offset some of the losses golf courses endured during what has been called the worst September in recent memory.

"We've been suffering so far this fall, so at least the snow is gone and we're able to enjoy a few more days of fall," golfer Don Walchuk said while on a break during a round with friends at Victoria Golf Course.

This September was "probably the worst" in years, said Kevin Hogan, head professional at Victoria Golf Course.

The downtown greens usually see roughly 40,000 rounds of golf played every year, but the numbers are down about 6.5 per cent overall this season. That drop is consistent at city-owned Rundle and Riverside golf courses, too.

Supplied/CBC

Hogan said the club has remained relatively busy, even with inclement weather — in part because it is one of the few clubs around town with a driving range. People still practise their swings if the weather is cold and dreary, Hogan said.

East of downtown, the Highland Golf Course suffered a late start to the season, which was made worse with rough conditions that showed after the winter thaw.

"This has been the worst golf season I remember," general manager Landon Hargreaves said on CBC's Edmonton AM.

"This will be our lowest round count ever on record; we only opened one week late but September killed us. We were down 2,500 rounds in September."

For a private club such as Highlands, the revenue primarily comes through membership dues, meaning a lower round count won't necessarily crush the club. But fewer players at the course means fewer drinks being purchased or power carts being rented.

"We lose very few members based on being unhappy with anything we're doing, it's just the dollar per round," he said.

"If they're going to play 20 rounds in the year and it will cost them four or five thousands dollars, those are pretty expensive rounds."

The course has tried to diversify its revenue streams by adding different social and dining events, and a golf simulator. But the industry is still weather dependent, and the weather has been unpredictable.

"Each winter is getting harder and harder. You get the freeze and thaws, which the golf course and the greens don't like."

At the Eagle Rock Golf Course south of the city, the greens were in such poor condition at the start of the season that the course decided to lower its fees until they were brought up to standard. That took months.

"We were up front about it," said Justin Delhon, a managing partner at the course.

"The customers responded to us being up front about it. If we [had] just neglected that aspect of it, we would have gotten a lot worse customer retention."

Delhon said the club is investing in measures to keep the greens in better shape this winter.

Each winter is getting harder and harder. You get the freeze and thaws, which the golf course and the greens don't like. - Landon Hargreaves, Highlands Golf Course

Back at the Victoria Golf Course, Fay Chow and his friend were squeezing in a round of golf during their lunch breaks.

He called September a disappointing golf season, but said there is something special about a great round in mid-October.

"My life can become longer," he said. "I can live longer because I have a longer golf season to play with."