Help wanted at Countryside Golf Course
One by one, golf courses across America have been forced to close in recent years as memberships continue to decline. Faced with the same dilemma, Countryside Golf Club in Minneota is determined to keep the course running for the community’s sake.
And for anyone interested in golfing this year, now is the time to take advantage of reduced rates. The course is offering single, couples and family memberships at a reduced rate until Jan. 31.
“What we need is community spirit to keep this going,” said Ralph Hagen, a longtime high school golf coach and longtime course member who is in his first year as a board member at Countryside.
Several factors have led to the decreased popularity of one of the oldest games in history. One of the main reasons is the increasing number of summer club sports, camps and junior sports that keep parents away from the course more than ever in order to travel to their children's games and camps.
And as the popularity of these aforementioned activities rises, so have the fees to participate in them. Besides the cost of the participation fees, parents also have to pay for travel, meals, and even lodging in some cases.
All this means less time and money for golfing.
Courses are now faced with a double-edged sword, having to raise the cost of memberships, green fees and cart rentals to compensate for the declining memberships.
And when those costs go up, the number of memberships go down.
At the 55-year-old Countryside Golf Club in Minneota, memberships have fallen below 100 for the first time. “Five or 10 years ago, we had around 150 to 175 memberships,” said Countryside Golf Club President Shawn Boerboom.
“In the glory days, we had over 200 memberships.” Some of those memberships were lost when Cottonwood built its course in the mid-70s, Hagen noted.
Fewer memberships mean less revenue for course and club repairs and maintenance. That forces board members and others to find alternative ways to pay operating expenses. “We have several repairs and improvements going on at the course and we've maxed out our operating loan,” said Boerboom.
“We're putting in a new watering system and some other things to the course and clubhouse.” “We're not looking to make a lot of money. We just need to break even. We’re not looking for 50 to 100 more memberships. We’d like to see at least 20 or more, though, to bring us back up to around 120. ”
Until they find a way to increase memberships, golf courses are attempting alternative ways to raise money. “We've had car shows, an annual Fun Day, hog roast and other things,” said Boerboom.
“But the bottom line is that we need to try and get some more memberships.”
Private donations are another solution, but they don’t come easy. There are so many fundraisers going on from a myriad of businesses, school causes and churches that the contributions get thinned out.
“A lot of the people who helped build the golf course had no intention of ever playing,” said Hagen, a 37-year high school golf coach and a 46-year golf club member. “But they knew the importance of having a golf course in town and what it would mean to the community.”
The sport has lost just over five million golfers nationally in the last 15 years, according to National Golf Foundation statistics. Minnesota was once known as the state for having the most golfers per capita in the nation, but it hasn’t been immune to golf’s downtrend either.
Of the nearly 500 courses in the state, memberships have fallen from a high of 94,000 in 1999 to just 62,000 in 2017.
Countryside Golf Club slightly increased its cost of memberships this year, but is still offers among the most reasonable green fee, cart rentals and membership prices in the area; especially for those purchasing a membership before the end of the month.
Stock memberships fees at Countryside Golf Club are as follows: A single membership is $440 if purchased by Jan. 31 or $515 after that.
A couple’s membership is $500 until Jan. 31 and $575 after that. And a family membership is $550 now and $625 after Jan. 31. Non-Stock memberships are only slightly more. A college student can obtain a membership for $210 and a high school student’s fee would be only $120 (each would be $10 more after Jan. 31).
Kids in grades K-8 can golf free if they graduated from the Golf Academy or are accompanied by an adult. Current green fees are $14 for nine holes and $20 for 18 holes. Cart rentals are $12 for nine holes and $17 for 18 holes.
“When I started golfing in the 70s, the cost of the membership when compared to the average wage someone was earning was actually higher than it is now,” said Hagen.
Since the last course opened in the Twin Cities in 2006, 25 others have closed across the state, according to the Minnesota Golf Association.
“It’s like the (community swimming) pool,” explained Boerboom. “You might not ever go there to swim, but you try to help it out so others can still enjoy it. We need the community to help us keep the course going.”
Statistics across the nation also show that attracting women and kids to the sport of golf has become the biggest problem. The number of women and junior golfers has declined by over 25 percent in the last 10 years, according to the National Golf Foundation.
That holds true at Countryside Golf Club, too. “We didn’t have a women’s club tournament here last year for the first time,” said Boerboom.
“We only had five or six women golfing on our Women’s Day.” With the success of the Minneota high school golf teams, it’s surprising that the sport is not more popular in town.
“A lot of the parents of the kids on the golf team simply don’t golf,” said Hagen. “We’re trying to get more families involved. And if someone wants to try and play golf but doesn’t have any golf clubs, we offer clubs free at the course.”
“The thing people need to remember is that if they are a member and are busy, no one said you have to play 18, or even nine holes. I’ve gone over to the course some days and just played three holes because I had other things to do. You can go and play a couple of holes over your lunch hour. Sometimes it’s a great tension reliever just to play a few holes.”
Countryside is also seeking the community’s input into what they need at the course or if they have any ideas.
“Having a golf course in town helps the entire community,” said Boerboom.
“Someone might be thinking about moving into the area and would like to live in a community with a golf course.” Hagen echoed those sentiments.
“A golf course adds value to every home in town,” he said.
“People need to look at the big picture. Not necessary right now, but 20 years down the road.”
Countryside needs manager
Countryside Golf Club is currently seeking a manager for the golf course and restaurant for the 2018 season.
If anyone is interested, contact Shawn Boerboom at 507-828-6919.