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Tampa Bay area golf courses struggle to fill tee times during peak winter season

There was a time when November brought relief to local golf course operators. Not only relief from the stifling weather, but relief from empty tee sheets as well.

But this isn't the good old days for area golf courses. At least for now, the days of golfers fighting for tee times during the shorter, nicer winter days are in the past.

"There's been maybe a slight uptick, but not what it used to be say back in 2006 or '07,'' said Andy Green, director of golf at Tampa's Northdale Golf Club. "It's difficult to get the same rates we had back then. Everyone is being cautious with their money right now. I don't think there are less people playing golf, but the days of the $75 public course are probably over for now. You can't really get over $50 for a round. I think five or six years ago you could.''

Clay Thomas, director of golf at Tampa's Westchase Golf Club, said he is starting to see some of his regular snowbirds from Canada and Wisconsin on the course. But he doesn't expect things will be like years past, when tee times were filled from sunup to sundown on winter days.

"There are still days we are full, but it's not realistic that we're going to be full every day,'' Thomas said. "In the first five or six years that we were open (1992-98), we were full every day for six months during the season. Those days are gone.''

Staying competitive

Although November generally means the start of higher greens fees, many courses have raised their rates only slightly or kept them the same. It is simple supply and demand, and until the demand increases, the fees likely won't go up much.

Golf course operators are watching each other closely this time of year, seeing what rates they can realistically charge.

"Everybody in the business that I've talked to is certainly attune to the rates this year,'' Brooksville Country Club director Roger Eppley said. "We'll all be watching the rate structure.''

And golfers will as well. It used to be that some of the higher-rated public golf courses either were priced too high in the winter or the tee times were full. That's not necessarily the case now.

The middle-range courses are finding they have to be a little more creative in their rate structures to be competitive. There are deals for reserving tee times online and deals for playing in the afternoon instead of morning. And some courses offer frequent player cards for discounts, even in the winter.

"Are things more challenging now? Absolutely,'' Louis Devos, general manager of Tides Golf Course in Seminole, said. "I'm seeing other courses go from private to public, or cutting their rates from $50 to $30 to try to keep the doors open. We haven't had to do that here, but our rates have certainly leveled off. We'll have to see what happens going forward, but we are optimistic.''

Wait and see

Aside from daily fee play, local courses also rely on corporate outings and tournaments to get them through the winter. Courses have seen a drop in those rounds as well, especially since corporations have cut back in recent years.

Westchase's Thomas, for one, continues to court big outings as part of staying competitive.

"We've worked hard on outings,'' Thomas said. "We lost some outings because companies weren't doing that in these times. But we've worked very hard to get other outings and keep them. Those rounds are up over last year.''

Whether rounds will be up overall remains to be seen. One thing most golf course owners and directors agree on is the hope that next year is better than this year.

"I just hope 2010 is a better year than 2009,'' Green said. "We're all just waiting to see what happens.''

PGA bubble box

Next week is the last chance for golfers on the PGA Tour money list bubble to finish within the top 125 and retain full status for 2010. The most notable name on the bubble is David Duval, who is currently 125th. Here's a look at Duval and some of the others barely in, or barely out, of the top 125.

David Duval

Years pro: 16

Rank: 125

Money earned: $623,824

Best 2009 finish: Tied for second at the U.S. Open

Interesting stat: Duval has played in 21 tournaments and made only six cuts. He earned $559,830 for his second at the U.S. Open and $63,994 in the other 20 tournaments combined.

Safe for now: Richard Johnson, 120th ($676,878); Ricky Barnes, 121st ($672,437); Steve Flesch, 122nd ($668,052); Robert Garrigus, 123rd ($657,204); Rich Beem, 124th ($636,831)

Outside looking in: Chris Riley, 126th ($613,027); Jeff Maggert, 127th ($611,316); Tim Herron, 128th ($602,453); Matt Jones, 129th ($593,313); Jimmy Walker, 130th ($589,833)

Children's Miracle Network Classic

When/Where: Nov. 12-15; Disney's Magnolia and Palm Course, Lake Buena Vista

Purse: $4.7 million, $846,000 to winner

Defending champion: Davis Love

For information:childrensmiraclenetworkclassic.com

Tampa Bay area golf courses struggle to fill tee times during peak winter season 11/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 9:48pm]

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