To the notion that the golf business is tanking, the operators of two new public courses near Kutztown present a different view.
Woodbridge Golf Club, an 18-hole public facility in Maxatawny Township, opened for play April 1 after four years of planning and construction. About eight miles south on Route 222, Berkleigh Golf Club is scheduled to open this month as a public course after 81 years as a private country club.
Those operating both courses have seen data regarding fewer players and closing courses. Their response: Good courses will make money.
"If you go by just numbers and stats, it doesn't seem like a smart venture," said Thor Shaffer, head golf professional at Woodbridge. "But the Lehigh Valley has a nice niche here for golf. With this location and the course we have, I think we're going to do well."
Added Jack Eckenrode, who is running Berkleigh, "If the course is run properly, and people get value and service for the money they pay, then you'll do fine. I don't see the decline."
Woodbridge is the fifth new golf course to open in the region since 2004. The late Emidio "Meme" Filippini, former owner of Golden Oaks and Reading Country Club, designed the course, putting together the funding and beginning construction in 2006. He died in October 2007.
Couldn't stay away
Berkleigh opened in 1926 as a private country club, once the toast of members from Allentown to Reading. It hosted the LPGA Betsy King Classic for nine years and had, at its peak, a membership of 400.
But that membership dwindled to about 120, and members decided last year to dissolve the club and sell the property. Lehigh Cement bought the course, which closed in December, and Eckenrode recently entered into a lease agreement to open Berkleigh as a public course.
Eckenrode, a former PGA pro from Bethlehem, had retired to Florida but couldn't stay off the course. He bought Fox Hollow in Upper Bucks last year -- he previously owned it from 1987-98 -- and pursued the Berkleigh project this past winter.
"Two really good opportunities just came along," he said. "I feel like I can handle them and manage them, so I might as well take them."
Potential at Berkleigh
Eckenrode said that, before the sale, Fox Hollow was averaging 15,000-17,000 rounds per year. He said the course did 24,000 rounds last year after the sale in May and projects 32,000-34,000 for this year.
At Berkleigh, which never has been open for public play, Eckenrode said he saw different potential -- that of a course many people walked during tournaments or saw on television but couldn't play.
"Golf is moving in that direction, away from the private clubs to upscale public [courses]," Eckenrode said. "People can feel like they can belong to a country club for a weekend, then go back to work."
Golf a good value
Shaffer, who moved from Silver Creek Country Club to Woodbridge, said some factors have quelled the boom of the late 1990s. Time and expense (primarily equipment) have turned off some players, but Shaffer said golf remains a good value.
"There are a lot of other things that go into it, like being out on beautiful course with your buddies," Shaffer said. "It's not that economical to come out and play a round of golf. I'll stack up a round here against just about any other leisure activity."
Eckenrode said he has seen a leveling of the game's popularity, primarily as a result of overbuilding of public courses, mostly in vacation spots such as Florida. Courses that cost $8 million to $10 million to build had to charge $125 per round to stay afloat, and some of those courses are folding.
"That's where the problem is," Eckenrode said. "I think that sort of thing is beginning to level out. Actually, I think it's about time for another boom."
Or, as Woodbridge partner Marlowe Graff said, "There are still a few of us who like to play golf."
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