Deeds and WeedsApril 19, 2009

Ups and Downs of New Orleans Market

Comprehensive article on the New Orleans golf market in Saturday's edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Fascinating, too, for it encapsulates the confusing, maddening and enticing aspects that make up today's golf market.

What do I mean? Well, the first part of the article details the really (I have to say, given all the tough economic stories we've documented on this blog) extraordinary amount of new and renovated golf facilities opening, about to open or under construction in the New Orleans area, including the new $46 million City Park complex and Lakewood, which just underwent a $9 million refurbishment.Â

The article makes the case that the activity is part of a campaign to make a stronger golf tourist destination out of New Orleans (and some of it is related to the post-Katrina rebuilding effort), and provides statistics that suggest the campaign isn't all that far-fetched: rounds played in Louisiana in the first two months of 2009 were up a startling 19 percent over the same period last year (the nationwide average was a 4 percent decline).

That's the good news. The bad news is that the second half of the article makes it clear that golf courses in the Crescent City are plagued with the same challenges as facilities all across the country: declining revenue, falling initiation fees, debilitating budget cuts—and course closings. This paragraph from the story the gives a pretty clear picture of the troubled side of New Orleans golf:

"Katrina closed down the East and West courses at City Park; the North Course reopened in September. Joe Bartholomew Golf Course, commonly called Pontchartrain Park, remains closed, awaiting a $5 million renovation. Eastover Golf Club in eastern New Orleans tried briefly to bounce back from Katrina, reopening nine of its 36 holes, but it ceased operations altogether in October 2007. And The Bluffs at Thompson Creek, a nationally recognized golf resort in St. Francisville, recently closed amid the recession."

My favorite quote is from Jimmy Headrick, who was director of golf at Eastover. As an 18-hole facility (according to Headrick) Eastover routinely made an annual profit of $500,000 throughout the 1990s. Then it decided to add a second course, took on too much debt, and was hit hard by the post-Sept. 11 recession. By 2007, Eastover was closed.Â

"Courses that get overextended start living for the bottom line and lose sight of the fact that you also got to grow the game and build relationships with members," Headrick said. "I shudder to think how many courses are out there like that right now."

-- G.R.