The Harrisburg area has recently witnessed the demise of several private and public golf courses. No longer in existence are Felicita, Hershey Links, Monroe Valley and Silver Spring. Hershey Parkview was an earlier casualty. And, in its final season of operation is the venerable Blue Ridge Country Club along Linglestown Road.
“Naturally, I’m a fan of golf, so I hate to see any course close,” says Country Club of Harrisburg head professional, Jeff Breiner. “But I guess a winnowing process is necessary, because today’s economic climate and recreational priorities are not supporting so many courses.”
Pete Micklewright, PGA Master Professional at Blue Ridge, has been associated with that club for 35 years. He offers details for Breiner’s general observation. “In the early 1990s there was a big boom in the golf business. The National Golf Foundation declared that a new course would have to open each day to meet the demand. I’ve counted eight that opened in this area since that time.” However, the anticipated level of interest in the game has not been sustained due to several contributing factors.
“The federal government changed tax laws that hurt country clubs,” says Micklewright. “No longer can a member write off dues or business entertainment expenses, for example. Then, the stock market lost one-third of its value in the 2007 plunge, which forced many people to evaluate their discretionary spending. And country club membership no longer fit in the budget.”
Meanwhile, the condition of public courses was improving, and that became an appealing option. “At one time, there was a stark difference between public and private courses,” says Micklewright, “but that has changed.”
Triple Crown Corporation owns both Blue Ridge and Colonial Country Club, dubbing the enterprise The Clubs at Colonial Ridge. Although each is open to public play, they retain private memberships. The contrast in membership support is telling; approximately 72 percent at Colonial versus 35 percent at Blue Ridge.
Then there is the overhead, which includes 165 employees. “There are two golf courses,” says Micklewright. “In past years, the Corporation also managed two tennis facilities, two pools and two food and beverage services. All of that required a lot of membership support.”
Micklewright concludes, “Youth sports nowadays often involves travel, much of it on weekends. Social life isn’t centered in the country club. Lifestyles have changed.”
In 2016, the Country Club of Harrisburg marked 100 years at its present Fishing Creek Valley location. “I think that we’re about the seventh oldest club in the state,” says Breiner. Any organization of that age has its peaks and valleys. In lean times, the Club’s membership stepped up to cover shortfalls.
Breiner now has reason to be positive about the future. “We have welcomed 70 new members since the start of the 2016 golf season,” he says. “We’ve also increased the number of outings, banquets and weddings, all of which produces revenue for the Club. We have a phenomenal management team that understands marketing and this business. And our superintendent, Scott Fisher, does wonders with the golf course.”
At the same time, Harrisburg is trying to engage younger members by staging family-centered activities; junior golf being one of them.
For those so disposed, the Club offers a classically designed track in a picturesque environment that averages only 10,000 rounds a year. “We’re the quietest golf course around here,” smiles Breiner.
While Blue Ridge is slated for residential and commercial development, the public course adjacent to it is experiencing a renaissance. Five years ago, Sportsman’s Golf Course procured Heather Kuzmich as general manager after her position was eliminated when Silver Spring closed.
Kuzmich brought energy and results to the job. After a dip in patronage prior to her arrival, the subsequent improvement in service and course conditions has increased the annual number of rounds. Another pro declared that Sportsman’s could be the best public course in the area with proper conditioning. It is moving in that direction under Kuzmich.
She shares a pertinent detail. “Some of the original sand bunkers were not correctly designed to facilitate drainage. Every time it rained they had to be drained by hand. It was a labor-intensive job. So, we decided to make those grass bunkers.”
Local golfers appear to like what they see at Sportsman’s. In addition to general play, there are leagues every weekday except Friday, a day reserved for outings.
“The Union Deposit Corporation, which owns Sportsman’s, is building a luxury apartment complex near the course at the end of Oakhurst Boulevard,” says Kuzmich. “That can only help business.”
Beyond any local endeavors, the United States Golf Association is attempting to bolster interest in the ancient game by promoting nine-hole play, which offers a time-saving and less expensive alternative. Nationwide, 88 percent of courses offer nine-hole rates.