Golf Business Ready to Tee Off in Mahoning Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Northeastern Ohio’s brutal winter has only toughened the resolve of the area’s golfers and courses throughout the region expect a quick release of those afflicted by cabin fever and a severe itch to play.

“Around here right now, the interest is high,” says Andy Santor, head professional at Mill Creek MetroParks Golf Course, Boardman. “People have been cooped up all winter, more so than normal this year.”

So much so that golfers were braving windy conditions one day in mid-April when the temperature registered in the low 40s. “They’re champing at the bit. They could care less about the weather,” Santor observes. “They want to get out and play golf.”

The late start to the season hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the sport one bit, Santor says. Two years ago, the unseasonably warm weather caused the course to open for play in mid-March. The last two years, it’s been the first week or so in April.

“Last year, we had rainouts a lot of the weekends,” Santor recalls. “Two years ago, it was dry.”

While weather in northeastern Ohio is unpredictable, it doesn’t deter bookings for major outings at the 36-hole course, Santor says. “We have a couple of days this year where they’re using the whole golf course,” he reports. “Both events include 300 people for the day.”

Mill Creek has introduced other amenities over the last several years to draw new business, Santor notes. A new driving range opened last year and has received a lot of play so far this season. “We opened it before the course opened this year and people were using it,” he says. “It’s made golf instruction a whole lot better.”

The purpose of the game is for people to go out and have fun, says Paul Otto, director of golf operations at Kennsington Golf Club, Canfield. “People are excited to get out,” he observes. “They’ve been watching it on TV since January.”

What is heartening about the sport is that more people are playing the game, he says. “Women are getting involved more,” Otto notes. “So they can do family nights, and that’s becoming important.”

Kennsington, developed by CTW Corp. just eight years ago, is drawing attention from groups who prefer traveling from course to course, some from as far away as Cleveland.

Technology has improved the equipment used in the game, Otto says, noting that golf balls are traveling farther and clubs today are engineered to achieve the best control, strike zone and distance. “They’re designed for all caliber of players,” he says. “They’re constantly changing the technology and equipment.”

Otto says all of it is helping a new generation of players. “It’s good for the game,” he says. “The No. 1 thing I tell players is that we’re not playing this game to pay our bills – let’s go out and have fun.”

The industry is very much an important component of Ohio’s recreation economy, according to statistics compiled by SRI International, a research institute that conducts an economic impact study for the golf industry every five years.

In 2010, Ohio boasted 738 golf courses that contributed $2.4 billion in direct economic output, the study showed. Total jobs associated with the golf industry stood at 68,120 and generated $1.5 billion in wage income.

The study shows that the total economic impact of golf across the United States – direct and indirect – stood at $176.8 billion annually, with $55.6 billion in total wage income from roughly two million jobs.

This year the PGA Tour reported in January that it had surpassed the $2 billion mark in all-time charitable giving. More than 100 tournaments dedicated to raising money for charities are played each year, according to the PGA, and annual contributions exceeded $133 million in 2013. Ten years ago, contributions stood at $82.8 million.

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the May edition of The Business Journal.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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