Golf courses under the weather

But a couple good weeks will offset current losses, say area directors

By Brian Dzenis

Golf’s Q-rating couldn’t be higher with the Masters going on this weekend.

The sport’s marquee tournament brings out the casual golf crowd to the links, but in the Mahoning Valley, local golf courses aren’t riding that wave.

With spring not quite in bloom, courses are in a slump.

“We’re behind where we were at this point last year. We’re behind by about 15-20 golf days,” Salem Hills owner Ben Broderick said. “One thing that helps is that we have monthly fees from our members, which helps for the winter and the rough times.

“We’re semi-private, but 60 percent of our revenue still comes from the public.”

There’s snow on the ground later than some courses would like to see, but it’s still too early to seriously worry about taking a loss for the year.

“In two good weeks, we could gain back what we lost,” said John Kerins, PGA director of golf at Tam O’Shanter Golf Course. “It’s hard to say. [The losses] are in the thousands of dollars, no question. If we could get two good weeks at the end of April, we’ll be good.”

The real hazard is opening too soon. A damp course, plus golfers and carts can mean damage that can last well into the summer.

“When there’s water and it freezes, you get these ruts. When the ground is somewhat frozen, ball marks are harder to see on the green and divots are harder to repair, even if the golfer does it properly,” Broderick said. “Those repairs loom for months, especially when it’s cold and there’s no sunlight.”

At the Mahoning County-owned Mill Creek Golf Course, there haven’t been any golfers though February and nearly all of March. That’s by choice as Mill Creek’s PGA director of golf, Brian Tolnar, decided to mostly sidestep a battle with Mother Nature by having the course’s opening day on March 30.

“Two years ago, we would be open in the last week of February and the entire month of March. We didn’t get a chance to do that last year as well, so you kind of anticipate being open in mid-March,” Tolnar said. “With what’s happening now, we’re being pushed into the first week of April. You hope everybody still has the same [motivatation] of coming out, hitting range balls, practicing and getting on the golf course.

“That’s easier said than done.”

Like his non municipality-backed peers, any April losses can be made up by the end of the month or in May.

“I told our staff, ‘We’re going to go from 0 to 100 in one day.’ You usually ramp up from the first day that you open up and then you’re firing on full cylinders from that first weekend,” Tolnar said. “Now everybody [will be] in and we’re back into the swing of things with summer traffic.

“You have to deal with our weather in our industry and the window is small to begin with. It hurts now, but hopefully the [desire] is built up with the Masters on and that gets people interested in playing.”

With the weather forecasted for between 45-50 degrees this week with no rain until Thursday, it might be enough to get the golf balls rolling.

“We just need the weather to be above 40, sunny and dry,” Kerins said. “It doesn’t have to be 70.”

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