The Bronx finally has a high-quality golf course it can call its own.
Actually, Donald Trump can call it his own, at least for the next 20 years.
In the midst of an industry that is losing participation annually, the Trump Links Golf Course at Ferry Point in the Bronx opened in mid-October. The course, built on a massive landfill, was first proposed as a private development in 1998, but when the original developers pulled out, the project went to the City Parks Department for completion. Then it went through a 12-year delay and millions in cost overruns, and only got completed because of the financial involvement of Donald Trump, who got naming rights for the course for 20 years as a result.
It is a links-style golf course, designed by the design firm of golfing legend jack Nicklaus. The project, which includes the construction of two parks in the area, is currently expected to have a final cost of $184 million.
The course is for public consumption, although a round is expected to cost approximately $150. But the goal is not just to give New Yorkers a course to play on; it’s to bring golfers from around the world to the Bronx.
“It was built to house a championship and to bring the outside world to New York City to see that they have golf, and for the people in the city to have it and allow people to play it that live there,’’ Nicklaus said in the official press release announcing the completion of the course.
The golf course itself is complete, although Trump is building a clubhouse that will not be complete until early in 2015.
As might be expected, the expenditure of public funds for a golf course has received huge amounts of criticism, some of it directed at the fact that golf is a dying sport, at least at the municipal level. While the pros continue to make huge sums and draw large galleries to major events, less people in the United States are playing the game.
The New York Times reports that on the city’s municipal courses, 890,000 rounds of golf were played in 1966, while only 561,000 were played in 2011, despite one extra course.
Meanwhile, golf participation drops around the country and municipal courses find it hard to make ends meet.
According to the National Golf Foundation, the number of golfers decreased from 30 million in 2005 to 25.7 million in 2011, a drop of 14 percent. At the youth level, only 9 percent of Americans ages 6 to 18 played golf at least once in 2011, compared to 12 percent in 1990.
A recent Spectrem study of investors with a net worth of $25 million or more, not including primary residence, showed that 11 percent of investors play golf as one of their main leisure activities, ranking ahead of all others except travel (17 percent).
In the 1990s, when golf course communities were springing up throughout the country, 40 percent of new courses were built for such properties, and the courses were made difficult enough to impress and attract high-end buyers. “Master planned communities that had a high profile golf course as a featured community amenity were able to command premium real estate lot prices and to increase sales turnover,’’ according to a Clemson University study in 2012.
But today, golf communities report the drop in popularity of the sport, combined with the recent economic difficulties, have created a glut of golf community properties available for sale. Of the 3,400 golf courses built in the United States in the past 10 years, 93 percent are daily fees (which means not private) courses.
For instance, The Club at Cordillera, a golf community near Vail, Colo., opened only one of its four courses in 2011 because owners lost more than $6 million in 2010. As a result of the economic downturn, home owners were assessed a 50-pecent raise in golf club dues. Luxury golf courses in Florida, Arizona and Montana, including courses that have held significant PGA events, have closed due to financial difficulties.
Meanwhile, municipal courses are losing money despite being significantly less expensive than privately held public clubs.
In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the four municipal courses have lost $1.4 million since 2010.
In Portland, Ore., the city is required by the state to rezone land for industrial use and is in negotiations are losing money, are not unwilling to discuss the sale of their land.
“Business has dropped off dramatically, especially the last four years,’’ Broadmoor Golf Course general manager Scott Krieger told the Portland Tribune. Broadmoor is one of the courses considering the sale.
There is good news for the industry, although some of it takes a change in mindset.
In New Orleans, construction on a $24.5 million City Park championship golf course is set to begin before the end of the year, with about half the funds coming from a FEMA payment to the community related to damage done in Hurricane Katrina.
In Yucca Valley, Calif., construction has begun on Hawks Landing Golf Club, which is a 12-hole golf course and driving range. The construction is being done by Landscapes Unlimited, a company that specializes in 12-hole courses.
“Twelve-hole courses are a trend now for a few reasons,’’ Hawks Landing representative Cindy Melland told the Hi-Desert Star newspaper. “A golfer can play just six holes if they have very little time, play two loops for 12 holes and play three loops for a full 18. It gives golfers more options.”