We're far removed from golf's heyday in York County.
That's pretty obvious to anyone who plays the game in these parts.
From the late 1980s through the late 1990s, new golf courses sprouted like flowers in the spring in the York area. Five new 18-hole courses were built in York County during that time frame – Hickory Heights, Heritage Hills, Briarwood West, Regents' Glen and Springwood.
Five new courses were also built in nearby Adams County during the same period – Cedar Ridge, Flatbush, the Links at Gettysburg, Quail Valley and the Bridges. The latter two have become members of the York County Amateur Golf Association, with Quail Valley joining the organization this year.
The York-Adams area even started to bill itself as a golf destination.
Since the turn of the century, however, things have changed drastically. Since 2000, only one new course has been constructed in York County – Royal Manchester. Two others, however, were shut down around 2006 – Hawk Lake (formerly Yorktowne) and Copper Beech (formerly Red Lion Country Club.) The long-term future of a couple other courses is uncertain.
There are various reasons for the game's decline, but two come to mind immediately. During the housing boom, before 2008, some course owners found development an easier way to make money than running a golf facility. Those York-area hackers who make annual trips to the golf Mecca of Myrtle Beach, S.C., know that first-hand. During the housing boom, more than 20 courses on the Grand Strand bit the dust in a matter of few years.
Then, after the housing boom went bust, the economy tanked. Golf, being a pretty expensive sport, felt the money pinch in a big way. The number of players plummeted nearly 20 percent nationally from 2000 until 2013, according to one source.
The economy is slowly bouncing back, but it's still not great, and neither is the golf business. Play is down at many area public courses, and most York County country clubs are actively looking for new members. An unusually harsh winter also took its toll.
Talk to any local golf course owner and you'll likely receive a pretty similar response – it's a struggle. They're getting by, but certainly not getting rich. Obviously, some courses are doing better than others.
Still, York County golfers are a pretty fortunate bunch. There's only been a net loss of one course in the past decade. That's better than many areas.
In addition, the courses around here normally do a good job of keeping the rates relatively low. At most York area courses, you can usually play a weekend morning round, with cart, for about $50 or less. That's a downright bargain when compared to nearby courses in the Baltimore, Washington or Philadelphia areas.
If you're willing to walk and play during the week or on weekend afternoons, you can reduce that rate considerably.
Course conditions in the county vary from facility to facility, but generally are decent or better, especially for the price.
York County golf, on the whole, is a good value. That's probably why there haven't been more area course closures. Generally, the local owners treat their customers right and their customers, on the whole, appreciate that. They respond by spending their golf dollars locally.
Dave Bennett, the executive director of the YCAGA, is optimistic about the overall health of the courses in this area and his organization.
"I'd say it's still strong," he said. "We have 20-21 clubs, and we have a couple clubs that are questionable, but the overall strength is still strong. Our sponsors are still solid."
Given the economy and the state of the golf business nationally, that's pretty encouraging.
It's obvious that the golf boom is ancient history. Don't expect any new courses to be built locally anytime soon.
Still, while the area golf industry may not be thriving, it's at least surviving. The local courses seem to be holding their own.
That may not seem like great news, but given the economic forces at work, it's probably the best that can be hoped for at this point.
Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.