What’s Happening to All of America’s Defunct Golf Courses?

The golf course, once abundant across American suburbs, represented status and exclusivity for those who could afford to play the game. Even in areas with more modest income, golf was often seen as a way for the business elite to mix and mingle. But today, golf courses are closing across the country. Why are we seeing this shift and how will it impact our communities? The answers may surprise you. 

Millennials aren’t as interested in golf

People just aren’t playing golf like they used to. What was seen as a pastime for those who had “made it,” is now viewed by the younger generation as an expensive sport offering little in the way of excitement or athleticism. In other words, millennials just aren’t playing the game.

According to The Washington Post, Sports and Fitness Industry Association data shows there’s been a 35% decline in those playing golf between the ages of 18 and 30. Business Insider reveals that over 800 golf courses have closed within the last decade. Golf-industry researcher Pellucid shows that the number of regular golfers has fallen from 30 million to 20.9 million between 2002 and 2016. 

Unfortunately, as the previous generation ages, millennials aren’t replacing them on the course. Many younger adults consider golf a stuffy, slow game requiring too many expenses. As a result, we have hundreds of abandoned golf courses — and a surplus of land offering exciting opportunities for American suburbs. 

What will become of the empty golf courses?

Currently, golf courses consume prime land in wealthy neighborhoods across the U.S. According to golf course architect William Amick, the average course requires 140 to 180 acres of land. When those courses close, the land becomes available for a number of new projects. 

Many hope the land surplus could help solve our current housing crisis. That amount of land could host 600 standard-sized homes, and the number gets even higher if you build townhomes or apartments. Plus, golf courses are normally in wealthier areas, which means these new homes will include access to quality schools and workplaces. 

But many who already live in those neighborhoods aren’t keen on the idea of building more homes or apartments. They would rather see the land become into parks or reservation areas. And these people have money to fight any new developments that try to come in. 

Another barrier to building new homes is the current zoning laws. Many of these areas are zoned as commercial to accommodate clubhouses, restaurants, and bars that often accompany golf courses. Because these zoning restrictions can be hard to change, many instead work within the current limitations and build shopping centers, office space, or industrial parks instead. 

Closing golf courses will change our communities 

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What happens with individual courses across America will come down to the community and investors who buy the land. In many cases, these changes will have a huge impact on surrounding land values. Because of this, it could turn into a fight between those who want to solve the housing crisis with apartments, and those who prefer to see the land turned into parks, which would better preserve the value of the surrounding homes. 

Much of the time, those with money make the decisions. Although we’ve seen many areas already changed because of this process, for much of the country, it remains to be played out. It will be a different solution for each community.