(Host) Like the global economy, the global golf industry is in the rough. There are too many courses for too few golfers.
And that’s hurt finances in Killington, the only town in Vermont that owns its own golf course.
As VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports, the select board hopes to boost business with better marketing.
(Carapezza) Dave Soucy is preparing for a tournament at Green Mountain National golf course. His desk is covered with budgets and tee times. Soucy is the general manager at this challenging, top-rated course. He says Killington turned this public park land into a golf course 17 years ago.
(Soucy) "Back in the early ‘90s when golf was rocking and rolling and was very busy, there wasn’t enough golf in the area, so a few of the selectmen decided to look into building a golf course because there was demand."
(Carapezza) But now? Not so much.
(Soucy) "The market is already pretty saturated in Rutland, which would be our population base. They have three or four. We also have Killington Resort golf course here in town. Then you look at Okemo and Woodstock. There’s a lot of golf in the area for not many people."
(Carapezza) Killington borrowed money to build the course and still owes $5 million on the bond. This at a time when some industry experts say golf nationwide is overbuilt by 20 percent, and it will take at least a decade for supply and demand to realign.
So Killington hired John Brown, a South Carolina consultant, to help turn around Green Mountain National. He’s pledged to increase membership and decrease expenses. Brown says the course could still be a major asset for Killington.
(Brown) "The town of Killington can be very, very proud of what they’ve got here. I’m sure there are dozens and dozens of towns throughout New England who would love to be in a position to own a golf course of the magnitude of Green Mountain National."
(Carapezza) But selectman Bernie Rome says he’s not proud of the venture.
(Rome) "Not yet. Debt is the problem. That extends, of course, from a $5.5 million investment, and the fact is that golf nationally has been in a decline."
(Carapezza) Steve Jeffrey is the executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. He says Killington’s investment in a golf course may be unique to Vermont, but it’s not unheard of.
(Jeffrey) "It is a logical extension, I think, of where towns are so involved in economic development. It’s just something new and it probably wasn’t the best timing, and with the beauty of hindsight we’re saying that today."
(Carapezza) Back on the first tee at Green Mountain National, Dave Soucy kicks off a tournament. He says operating the course is the easy part. The challenge comes with making it profitable.
(Soucy) "There’s disaster around every turn. We’re hosting a tournament today for the Vermont House Republicans. It’s been raining all morning. Some people are canceling. Some are questioning whether they’re going to play. The rain has stopped and we’re gonna get 70 people out on to the golf course."
(Carapezza) One of them is Bill Gormly from North Chittenden. Gormley is approaching retirement and he’s actually been playing more golf recently, despite the economy.
(Gormly) "I play a few days a week but not here. This is a spectacular course, but they have to get the tourist here. For local people, this is not a cheap place to play."
(Carapezza) A weekend round costs $69 dollars plus cart. And for many people struggling to pay for gas and groceries, that means golf is not a priority.
For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.