Gone are the glory days of golf on Long Island, and the rest of the U.S. — the golf-rush, if you will, of the mid-1970s into the 1990s.
This was an era when private clubs had waiting lists and tee times were booked weeks in advance.
You booked ahead, or you waited longer than you did for Batman the movie.
It was also a time when Bellport Country Club’s membership had swelled to about 600 golfers. The village-owned course, which is supported largely by non-village residents, had been a big money-maker for Bellport and its 2,000 or so residents during those boom times.
“I don’t know how much money it used to provide, but for over 20 years they had no tax increases in the village so that money had to come from somewhere,” said Bellport Mayor Ray Fell. “I’m sure it came from the golf course.”
A lot has changed since. But Fell and the club’s pro, James Von Eschen, say the 18-hole course is on the mend, both literally and figuratively, after losing $150,000 in 2013.
The country club is on track to lose about $50,000 this season.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Fell said. “We’re hoping to be in the black [soon].”
The downturn in the golf economy has been well-documented, with much having to do with over-building of golf courses and changing family dynamics with regard to more two-income households.
“When my wife and I moved here in 1972, a lot of women didn’t work,” Fell recalled. “They had a woman’s club here that had close to 150 members. The women would play a lot here during the week. And the husbands would be working and play on the weekends. So there were a lot more family memberships then there are today.
“And the fact that people just don’t have the time to dedicate five hours in a day to golf.”
Today, with more courses closing down, Von Eschen said, Bellport Country Club is positioning itself to capitalize on golfers searching for new courses. The village has also started an aggressive campaign to cater to younger golfers with cheaper membership prices, and is offering big discounts to new members sponsored by existing members.
That, and the village has invested in the course’s conditions by hiring Parkland Golf Management, Inc. of Medford — instead of maintaining the 18-hole course in-house.
Von Eschen said he began to notice that the club wasn’t just losing members to people moving, health issues or dying, or even golfers who weren’t playing enough to get their money’s worth. The club was losing members to other courses.
That’s not good for business. And it was because the condition of the course began to wane, he said.
“Over time, the greens had started to stress out a little bit and we lost a good amount of members,” he said. “People just felt that they weren’t getting the course conditions for their money.”
Parkland Golf has reversed that trend, he said.
“They really turned the conditions of the golf course around,” Van Eschen said. “Now some money is being put back into the course, and the conditions are on the way up.”
The golf community is a relatively small one, he said, people talk and word has spread quickly of the improved conditions.
All of these efforts yielded 48 new members for the club this past season, with 30 golfers leaving and another 10 going on hiatus, typically for health reasons like recovering from a surgery. That’s a huge difference compared to losing 40 to 60 members season after season, with net losses, Van Eschen said.
There are about 330 club members currently. The goal is to get that up to 400.
“That 70 members is the difference between being in the black, or being in the red,” Fell said.
The village set the course’s rates for the new season on Saturday. Golfers who join for next season will be able to enjoy full club membership benefits for the rest of 2015 as well. Details are below.
Photo: James Von Eschen at the Bellport Country Club on Wednesday. (Credit: Michael White)