Local News

Golf greens produce plenty of green for state

Posted June 23, 2009 6:33 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2009 8:27 p.m. EDT

— Golf pumps about $5.3 billion into North Carolina's economy each year, placing the state third nationally in green produced from greens – and fairways and bunkers.

A golfing industry group told a legislative committee Tuesday that golf courses across the state employ about 70,000 people, who earn about $1.7 billion a year.

North Carolina trails only California, which gets a $15 billion economic jolt from golf each year, and Texas, at $7.5 billion.

"I think it's in the fabric of North Carolina. It will always be a big part of North Carolina," said Don Padgett, president of Pinehurst Resort.

Pinehurst hosted the men's U.S. Open Golf Championship in 1999 and 2005. In 2014, the resort's famed No. 2 course will host the men's and women's U.S. Opens on successive weeks.

Golf originated in 16th century Scotland, and Scottish settlers populated the sandhills of central North Carolina, where Donald Ross, a Scot, would design Pinehurst's courses. The No. 2 course ranks among his masterpieces.

"I think that what people want to come to see is the St. Andrews of American golf," Padgett said, referring to the fabled Royal & Ancient  Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland.

"No. 2 is a very well-known course and a very difficult course," said Steve Phillips, who traveled from Atlanta to play a round at Pinehurst.

The economic downturn has hacked into golf's impact on the state.

"We're probably 30 percent down for the year," Padgett said, predicting that bookings would rebound in 2010.

Pinehurst Resort recently completed a four-year, $15 million renovation to keep golfers teeing up, he said, adding that the game continues to grow in popularity.

Municipal courses have witnessed the most growth in recent years, younger golfers are getting into the swing of the game and older adults who love golf are retiring in North Carolina, Padgett said.

"I think golf being a rich man's game at one time was absolutely correct. Today, in 2009, I don't think it's right," he said.