SYCAMORE – Well before the sun had begun pushing thermometers in Sycamore to extremes Tuesday, Kirk Lundbeck was out loading Sycamore Golf Club’s six water stations with ice. Some water, but mostly ice that he hoped would stay cool all morning for golfers.
As the golf course’s superintendent of golf operations, Lundbeck has seen his course on the banks of the Kishwaukee River flood 17 times over the past nine years, but this week he’s dealing with a different menace: unbearable heat.
His ground crews were closely monitoring for dangerous “hot spots” on fairways and working to keep golfers hydrated Tuesday.
“Mid-days it does slow down because of the heat, and to be perfectly honest, I’m glad of that, because it’s very dangerous,” Lundbeck said. “What happens is, we’ll get a lot of early morning play, and then ... it’ll be sporadic between like 11 and 3, and then around 3 o’clock it’ll be busy again.”
According to a monthly report from the National Golf Owners Association of America and the National Golf Foundation, play was down by 15.2 percent for the year for Chicago-area golf courses at the end of July compared with 2012. Unpredictable weather conditions have kept local clubs on their toes, which has kept competition for weather-braving golfers tight even as the economy rebounds.
“Our play is a little bit down, but our revenue is up from last year,” David Paeglow, the head golf professional at the Kishwaukee Country Club, said. “You’ve got to adapt. You’ve got to make changes. ... We do some specials during the week when we’re slow, and we’ve done that aggressively this year.”
Lundbeck said that golfers also have become more budget-conscious in light of the recession. More golfers at his course play nine holes rather than a full 18 to save time and money, and they may walk the course instead of renting a cart to save a few more dollars.
“I’ve seen a lot more play [this year], but people are looking for deals now more than ever,” he said. “They don’t just go to their favorite golf course and play and throw the money on the counter. Now, they’re looking for a special incentive to come out to your facility. ... I remember when I first got here it didn’t matter. Whatever it cost, people would just pay.”
Craig Wilson, assistant superintendent of operations for the DeKalb Park District’s 18-hole River Heights and nine-hole Buena Vista golf courses, said that the combination of a rainy spring and people adapting to the weather has actually been good for business.
“[Golfers] make it out in the evening,” Wilson said. “... I don’t know our numbers, but I’d guess our rounds are up.”
The Oak Club of Genoa was sold at auction Aug. 28 for an unspecified dollar amount. The sale is set to close Sept. 16, and the 18-hole course remains open to the public in the meantime.
The course’s management haven’t elaborated on the exact reason for the sale, but the auction company has said that the new buyer intends to keep the course running.
Some think added competition from new golf courses in Marengo as well as the public and private courses in DeKalb County might have put the squeeze on the Oak Club, which is a daily fee course.
“I think when you have so many courses in such a small area, and they’re fighting for a fewer amount of golfers, some are not going to make it,” Paeglow said.
In addition to the competition, the weather hasn’t helped.
Average temperatures were down in May, June and July in the country’s east north central region, while average precipitation was up for each month. September looks to be the opposite extreme: The National Weather Service issued a special statement for DeKalb County on both Monday and Tuesday that advised of unseasonably hot air pushing into the region from the southwest, sending the heat index into triple digits.
“When you think about the heat index over 100, and our members tend to be in the older category, that’s going to be a factor for them,” Paeglow said.
Lundbeck highlighted the other impact of the extreme heat: The harm it can bring to course grounds.
“The heat is dangerous on the turf, especially when it’s warm and humid at night,” he said. “That promotes disease on bed grass, so we watch it. ... There’s [a disease] that can take a golf course in two days.”
By the numbers
2013 compared with 2012 for the east north central region of the U.S.*
Rounds:-8.2 percent-6.8 percent-1.0 percent
Precipitation:+52 percent+172 percent+12 percent
Source: National Rounds Played Report with data supplied by Golf Datatech, the National Golf Club Owners Association and Weather Trends International.
* This region includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.