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Weathering the elements: Golf season has yielded many challenging conditions

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Doug McDavitt has worked in the north country some 30 years now as the owner/PGA professional at Willowbrook Golf Club.

So he’s seen just about everything you can imagine concerning weather affecting play at his course, how seasons are shaped by the ever-changing weather patterns, and why and when golfers come out to play.

“If you’ve lived here long enough, you learn to deal with all of the elements,” said McDavitt, who runs the only 27-hole course in the region. “You take the bad with the good and there’s not much you can do about it. This year started out very bad and has gotten better. But who knows what next year will bring?”

Starting with the severe ice storm that caused plenty of damage to north country courses and extending to the extremely wet spring that forced courses to push back their opening dates, it’s been a long road to recovery. But a survey of a dozen courses shows that traffic has been pretty much on par with recent years when the weather broke. League and tournament schedules have remained steady, and walk-in play has picked up as the weather has gotten better.

“We’ve had some league rainouts, and you can’t make that traffic back,” said Reecy Gionet of Highland Meadows Golf and Country Club. “Fortunately, we’ve been lucky with our tournaments that the weather has cooperated. Open play has been hit-and-miss at times, but the past two months has been pretty steady.”

One thing courses have going for them is that this summer’s weather, which has for the most part been stable, has helped keep courses in tip-top shape. There’s been enough rain to keep courses green instead of brown, which means less watering of fairways and greens and the ability to maintain them at a high level with less work.

“We’ve had a lot of out-of-town call-ins looking to play our course because they heard it was in great shape,” said Dave Conklin at Ives Hill Country Club. “Canadians like to come and play when they are in town for a few days. And we’ve had pretty steady traffic from Fort Drum.”

At Watertown Golf Club, damage to some of its greens due to the long, cold winter slowed down the start of the season. “But it’s come back and been pretty consistent,” said Jason Engels, who works in the pro shop. “The pace has picked up in July and August and I’d say it’s about the same as last year.”

Both Carlowden Country Club in Denmark and the Adams Country Club also reported excellent seasons so far. Canton courses, the St. Lawrence University Golf and Country Club and Partridge Run Golf and Country Club, said their numbers are about the same as last season and any dip can be attributed to the delayed start.

But the fact remains that there are less players out there than a decade ago. That makes it tougher for courses everywhere to remain financially stable.

Golf experienced a boon in the late ‘90s, coinciding with Tiger Woods’ rise as a global star. But after a downturn in the economy and in Tiger’s game, the sport is in trouble.

About 400,000 players left the sport last year, according to the National Golf Foundation. While almost 260,000 women took up golf, some 650,000 men quit.

The sport is also suffering a big decline from younger players, according to the National Golf Foundation, with 200,000 players under 35 abandoning the game last year.

Hall of Famer Jack Nicklaus even admitted in a recent interview that golf doesn’t appeal to today’s instant-gratification generation. There also are fewer places to play. Last year marked the eighth straight year that more courses closed than opened.

The people sticking with the sport are playing fewer rounds than before. In total, U.S. golfers played 462 million rounds last year, according to Golf Datatech. That was the fewest number since 1995.

McDavitt runs some 10 leagues and around 50 tournaments a season. “We can have as many as 144 players because we have 27 holes, or we have a lot of littler tournaments with 50 players or less. People like to keep coming back because we treat them well and our greens are always in good shape.”

Times Sportswriter Cap Carey contributed to this report.

It’s course offerings like that, and an attention to detail that are absolute requirements for golf course operators these days.

“It’s a challenge every season, no matter if the weather is good or bad,” McDavitt said. “People don’t want to spend four hours of their time at a golf course. It’s our job as owners to provide a better experience and make them want to come out and spend some time with us.”

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