Female players could turn the tide for Sun City golf courses

Move over, guys — and take your golf clubs with you. That’s because those are women you see thumbing down the tees. More of them. Lots more of them.

Don’t believe any of that talk about golf losing its popularity. The truth is that golf is gaining in popularity — at least among women. It certainly is in Summerlin, and for sure it is at the three golf courses in Sun City Summerlin.

Earlier this year some disturbing numbers were spun out by the National Golf Foundation, which has provided data for the industry since 1936.

Perhaps the most disheartening was that 200,000 golfers 35 or younger have abandoned the game since early 2013. Another warning of a darker horizon: Last year, 14 new golf courses were built in the U.S., while almost 160 were shut down.

But this may sound like the killer: The foundation said 650,000 men of all ages quit playing golf last year. And according to Golf Data Tech, an industry market research organization, in 2013 U.S. golfers played the fewest number of rounds since 1995.

The usual reasons were given: rising costs associated with playing; the economic slowdown; and an overabundance of courses.

Now for some good news: The foundation also said that 260,000 women took up the game last year.

And while former Las Vegas City Councilman David Steinman worries about reduction of play at Highland Falls, Palm Valley and Eagle Crest golf courses in Sun City, he sees blue skies somewhere over the rainbow.

Steinman, who is president of the Sun City Board of Directors and chairman of the senior community’s Golf Oversight Committee, talked about golf play being down at his three facilities, which are among the finest-kept courses in Southern Nevada.

“When Del Webb developed Sun City, they built one golf course too many,” he said. “They did that so they could sell more homes along the golf courses. But we’re beginning to see some evidence of sunshine.”

One reason for the optimism is an increase in the number of rounds played at the three Sun City courses. According to Donny Long, director of golf at Sun City, “We had 88,759 rounds played at our three courses in the year that ended June 30. That was an increase of about 1,000 from the year before.”

And the year that ended June 30, 2013, was the lowest point for the Sun City courses in the last six years.

“Obviously, the economy hurt us, as it did courses all over town and all over the country,” said Long, who has been affiliated with Sun City golf for 12 years. “But we’re starting to see some rebound: younger people are moving into Sun City; more nonresident golfers are playing her; and we’re promoting clinics for women and youngsters.”

You said women, Donny?

“Oh, yes. The ladies are coming out here in larger numbers. Just ask Brittney,” Long said.

Brittney Schriever is the marketing coordinator for the three courses.

“We have seen a big increase in women’s and junior play,” she said. “Our numbers are up in those areas, compared to the rest of Las Vegas.”

For example, while there are no numbers just for women’s play, Eagle Crest had the biggest annual increase — by almost 2,000 rounds in the year ending June 30. Eagle Crest is an executive course, consisting largely of par-three holes, which are ideal for women.

One reason for the increase in female golfers is the addition of Kerri Clark as a women’s golf instructor. Clark, a native Las Vegan, was the state girls high school champion in 1979 and for years afterward was highly recognized among female golfers across the country, including the years she participated in Ladies Professional Golf Association tours.

“More women definitely are taking up golf. My theory is that they’re baby boomers looking for something to do, especially among Sun City’s retirees,” Clark said. “Their kids are grown, and they’ve taken to watching the good American female golfers on TV.

“I had 15 new women players in my two Sun City beginner classes earlier this year. All of them are back for the next golf class, starting in November. And a whole new crop of beginners is just getting started.”

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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