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.''
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.''