TRUMANN, AR (KAIT) - The headlines are similar across the country. Country club memberships seem to be on the decline due to a sluggish economy. In northeast Arkansas, country clubs are trying to stay alive despite a decline in the number of members. The Trumann Country Club said Saturday its membership has dropped by half since the mid-90s.
"There's been a continuing membership decline for the last 15 years," said Ted Walker, Trumann Country Club.
Walker told Region 8 News the country club had as many as 300 members. As of Saturday, the club had 138 members.
"It's across the board. There are just not enough young people coming in behind the guys that are leaving. It's not just confined to this golf course. It's confined to pretty much all organizations and people that I've talked to," said Walker.
Walker said he seems to think memberships are on the decline because the younger generation isn't as interested in the sport; however, Walter Cox said he believes the economy plays a role.
"The biggest reason is the economic times and the job cuts and limited funds," said Cox. "The membership is down and it limits everything that you can do as a golf course."
In 2008, Trumann Country Club charged a $300 membership fee and $85/month due. That provided members access to the pool, bar and golf course. The course also charged a fee to rent a cart shed if members requested it.
Saturday, Walker said the club has been struggling financially all winter long, and it hasn't improved so far this summer.
"We've tried waving the 300 dollar membership fee to come and join us. We gave the incentive of a free cart shed for a year if you would come join us," said Walker.
Walker said he's talked with young people before, and they said $85/month is unaffordable to many.
"I think young people are working themselves to death. In that parents have jobs, they work all the time. They really don't socialize," said Walker.
Cox, a member at TCC, said he's made many friends on the golf course during the 4-years he's played. Cox plays with his friends every day. Sometimes, he spends hours at the course without even hitting a ball.
"I needed something to help fill the void of not having anything to do," said Cox, who is retired.
"It's a wide open course. It's a little bit of a challenge, but it's nothing an amateur can't handle. There are a lot of nice people down here. We play every day and it's a pretty good crowd," said Cox.
Walker said, while it's too early, the course may have to be turned over to the city if memberships continue to decline. Walker said the Trumann Country Club Board of Directors doesn't want to raise membership fees again.
"85 dollars is tough for a lot of people now and each time I've noticed. Each time we've ever raised them, there's 10-20% of the membership seems to go into I can't afford it mode or it's not worth it mode to me," said Walker.
Walker said many courses are in the same situation as Trumann. When talking about the course in Marked Tree, Walker said he's talked to members there.
"They've had some problems with declining membership. I know they are having problems with financial problems just like we are. I don't know of a golf course in the country that I have talked to or know anything about that's not having a very similar problem," said Walker.
Walker said some members volunteer to mow fairways, water greens and fertilize other areas. Without volunteer work, the course would not exist, according to Walker.
"One thing, golf courses are very labor intensive. They are extremely labor intensive. We have 77 acres out here on this golf course. It's got to be mowed, maintained and watered," said Walker.
"These guys make the difference. We couldn't exist without it. Right now, we would be shut down without the volunteer effort," said Walker.
Walker said if the club spends $130,000/year on maintenance.
"We may have to change to a municipal course, perhaps, and supported some other way. If you don't have anyone interested enough to take care of it year round and willing to pay the dues for it, then the conclusion is obvious," said Walker.
Walker said if the club had to raise membership fees and dues, then the monthly charge would skyrocket to $150/month to offset operational costs. At that cost, Walker said, the membership would become non-existent.
"Golf is a humbling game. It's just, no matter who you are, you're going to hit a bad shot. But it always gives you just enough to bring you back for one more try at it," said Walker.