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Heavy rains put local golf courses in a hole

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Tuesday afternoon was gorgeous and sun-kissed, just perfect for a leisurely round of golf.

And the four Grant County courses were bustling with activity from league play to small groups of golfers taking advantage of the perfect weather. Yet, such days have been few and far between this spring and the courses have suffered just like the farmers who can’t plant their crops.

“In 49 years I believe this is absolutely the wettest spring we’ve had on the golf course,” said Randy Ballinger, Walnut Creek/Club Run owner. “We’re getting a half-inch of rain every third or fourth day and it never dried out.

“The days it was raining hard we didn’t have play ... and there were a handful of days when it wasn’t raining where we told people they couldn’t play.”

Golf courses are at the mercy of the weather, and it wasn’t merciful this time. The old adage “April showers bring May flowers” needed to be amended to more and more rain, and Arbor Trace pro Doug Piper said as a result his course has taken a financial hit.

“For us (rain) impacts everything because weather is everything for us,” Piper said. “In May we were down 25 percent from last year, and last year wasn’t that great. There’s nothing you can do about it, you just try to get by.”

Ballinger said the succession of poor weather springs have combined with other long-term issues to wreak havoc on local golf. The number of golfers in the county continues to shrink and it contributed to Shady Hills Golf Course closing its doors in March.

“You know every spring’s not going to be good,” Ballinger said. “But I think you’ll see some attrition of other golf courses because we’ve had the three worst springs and falls in a row that we’ve ever had, which compounds what we had this year.”

For the Elks Country Club, a rainy spring only exacerbates their current struggles. Declining membership as well as play has meant the remaining members must take a proactive approach to maintaining the course and clubhouse, club spokesman Tim Weiland said.

“There’s been rumors for years we’re in danger of closing,” Weiland said, “but we haven’t yet and I can’t say enough about the membership volunteering to maintain the club and the staff doing everything they can to maintain it. The combination of the two is the only reason why we’re open.

“In order to keep the price to golf affordable for people in Grant County we have to do those things to manage our course and make it affordable to play,” Weiland added.

Weiland said Elks’ financial constraints make it more vulnerable to rain days than public courses. 

“You can’t back up and redo a day you lost because of weather, so you lose revenue for that day,” Weiland said. “And when you’re running tight like we are that makes it even harder to maintain and manage.”

Piper said while March is traditionally viewed as the start of the golf season, play will be erratic through May due to the weather. 

“By May you should be in full swing, and that’s what makes this hard,” Piper said.

Ballinger said offering discounts or specials won’t make up for the lost play and it’s always best to plan for a rainy day.

“it’s gone,” he said. “People won’t play twice next week because they couldn’t play this week. But that’s the kind of business we’re in ... we have to spend what we can on the course and make due.”

Fortunately, courses are entering the peak golf season when rain subsides and heat and sweltering humidity pose greater problems. Local courses may not make up for lost business, but they may yet avoid taking a financial bath.

“As long as the weather cooperates the rest of year, and if we get an occasional timely rain this summer, we could get a lot of play and we should be fine,” Weiland said.