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December 11, 2023

As 3 CT golf courses go up for sale, advocates say slide in course numbers is slowing

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Howie Friday, the golf pro at Stanley Golf Course in New Britain.
CoStar The Copper Hill Golf Course in East Granby is for sale.
CT golf courses for sale 
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While many golfers have put away their clubs for the cold winter season, activity on some Connecticut courses is heating up on the real estate front.

At least three courses have been put up for sale in recent months, raising the possibility they join a long list of U.S. golf courses that have gone offline over the past 15 years.

Golf advocates and professionals are hopeful whoever buys the privately run courses in Torrington, East Granby and New Milford will use them to tap into a resurgent interest in the game following the pandemic.

Allen DePuy

“I think we have reached the bottom of the trough of oversupply (of golf courses), making these courses a very viable business activity once again,” said Allen DePuy, a vice president with real estate services firm Colliers International.

DePuy specializes in golf properties and is part of a team marketing the 18-hole Candlewood Valley Country Club in New Milford and nine-hole Copper Hill Golf Club in East Granby.

Both sit on potentially valuable redevelopment land.

Candlewood, with 157.5 acres, is being marketed as a “turnkey” course and golf shop with a popular pub and banquet space. The Colliers listing also notes zoning allows for other business uses on the property, including kennels, offices, warehousing and manufacturing.

The Candlewood Valley Country Club in Milford is for sale.

The East Granby course is being offered as a “historically strong cash-flowing” property with a bar and grill.

The course sits in a zoning district that could allow for single-family homes, agriculture, a school, day-care center, church, hospital or nursing home, according to its listing.

In Torrington, Executive Real Estate is offering the 50.6-acre Eastwood Country Club — along with an adjacent, undeveloped 46-acre parcel — for $4.3 million.

Executive’s listing says the property offers a “grand-scale” redevelopment opportunity that could blend recreation and residential, or commercial development.

Resurgent interest

The supply of U.S. golf courses has taken two major dips in the past century: first during the Great Depression, and then leading into and following the housing market meltdown of 2008, according to the National Golf Foundation.

It took an economic boom following the end of World War II to reverse preceding declines in course numbers.

Golf experts and advocates say the latest decline in courses is slowing thanks to a resurgent interest in the game sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a recreation-starved public to turn to an outdoor pastime that conformed with social distancing mandates.

Thomas Hantke

The National Golf Foundation predicted the number of active golfers in 2023 would increase by 3%, up to 26.4 million players, said Thomas E. Hantke, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Section of the PGA. That’s the largest increase since Tiger Woods drove interest in the game in 2000, he said.

Golf professionals in Connecticut have worked hard to make courses more welcoming to a broader demographic and foster youth involvement, Hantke said.

Nationally, since 2019, the number of 16- and 17-year-old active golfers has increased by 40%, or 1 million players, Hantke said. The number of minority golfers is up by 1.3 million people during the same period, a 28% increase.

And female participation is up 23%, he said.

“COVID certainly jump-started” interest in the sport, said Howie Friday, the golf pro at New Britain’s 27-hole Stanley Golf Course. “It was the one thing people could do. They had a lot of time on their hands. So, we saw lapsed golfers come back into the game. We saw people trying it for the first time.”

Friday noted that increased work schedule flexibility, including the broader embrace of remote work, also helped fuel a rise in golf rounds.

During the peak summer season, Stanley Golf Course averages about 400 daily rounds. This year, there were a couple days with more than 500 rounds played, which, Friday joked, “we thought was mythical.”

Return on investment

Despite increased interest in the game, the U.S. is projected to lose 100 golf courses in 2023. On the bright side, that’s the smallest decline since 2005, Hantke said.

The steepest loss came in 2019, when 280 U.S. courses were shuttered, he said.

Connecticut currently hosts about 170 golf courses, according to Friday, a number that hasn’t changed dramatically since 2008. About a dozen have gone up for sale since then, he estimates; several were purchased by owners who kept them as golf courses.

Friday said he and seven friends are negotiating the purchase of a golf course in upstate New York, near the Vermont border. He’s hoping to turn a modest profit in an up-and-coming area near Lake George.

“Everyone is trying to fulfill a childhood dream and doesn’t expect to make millions,” Friday said of his prospective investment. “Maybe we’ll get a little return on the investment and have some fun with it.”

Friday said he was working at a private, 27-hole course in 2007 when the housing market collapsed, dealing a gut punch to the broader economy. Many private club members dropped out and depended on public courses.

Within a couple of years, public courses also began to suffer, he said.

“The next 15 years were really rough,” Friday said.

A corner turned?

An April report by the National Golf Foundation declared the sport “is in a better place” today than it was when the current “supply correction” began, with a record number of new players.

The U.S. lost the equivalent of 2,200, 18-hole courses since 2006, or 13% of its overall supply, the report said.

However, 550 new 18-hole equivalent courses opened, another 1,500 courses were rebuilt or undertook major renovations, and 250 courses were resurrected.

The foundation’s website notes there was a 20-year boom leading up to 2006, in which the supply of U.S. courses grew by nearly 44%.

As of the close of 2022, the nation had nearly 16,000 courses, and various metrics showed record interest and participation in the sport.

Mike Goman, principal of East Hartford development consulting firm Goman + York, said he regularly receives calls from golf course operators seeking an analysis of their properties’ development potential.

There is a middle path, he said, in which courses with 18 or more holes sell off a portion of their land for development, allowing a nine-hole course to remain viable.

“Generally speaking, in almost every case, the answer is to develop surplus land as residential of some kind,” Goman said.

Goman said much of the U.S. still has an oversupply of golf courses. He acknowledged a recent boom in interest in the sport, but expects that to trail off to pre-pandemic levels.

“Golf courses, in general, got overbuilt,” Goman said. “The Hartford region is a pretty good example of that. I mean, you can draw a five-minute drive-time circle and often within that find five or six golf courses. You can find high concentrations of golf courses in very small areas. There just aren’t enough people playing golf anymore to make them make sense.”

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