The State of Golf Development in the U.S.

Written by Jeff Shelly, April 2016

Golf, like all sports, is subject to ebbs and flows. We 14-handicappers know the drill: following a birdie or an even rarer eagle is a bogey or a dreaded "other." Over 18 holes our scorecards look like an exotic overseas' phone number.

The same wild cycle applies to golf development, particularly in the U.S. During the 1990's heydays, an average of 500 new domestic courses opened per year, raising the total of America Facilities from 5,000 in the 1950's to 15, 000. After a peak of 16,052, the "market correction" reduced that number to 14,437 18-hole "equivalent" courses by the end of 2014, according to the National Golf Foundation.

"We built way too many courses in the 1990's," said Arizona-based architect John Fought. "It's also important to note that a lot of the courses built during that period were associated with residential projects. Many of these courses were poorly designed and were ultimately doomed for failure.

The 2000s brought about a big change from the "build-it-and-they-will-come" trend as golf course developers over-speculated on the amount of golf courses in the American market could handle. For one, the expected increased interest by Baby Boomers didn't materialize for various reasons (playing 18 holes takes too much time, the game is too expensive and too difficult, etc.). For another, the anticipated real estate component linked to many new golf developments never panned out (a 2010 study by Cornell University found that less than 40 percent of people who bought fairway-side homes ever play golf.

Notes Mark Miller, a Colorado-based architect: "The consensus by most in the industry is that golf will probable never experience a boom like we had in the '80s and '90s, and new golf courses are few and far between in comparison. Most new courses seem to be destination golf resorts, or private courses, built on spectacular greens. The says of golf being tied like an ”anchor'” to a residential community for real estate speculation seem to be over, although I will never say never. Did that over-development add to the down of the industry? I believe it did."

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Miller Design, Golf Course Architecture, founded in 1999 by Mark Miller.
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