Before the Blaine County Recreation District agrees to accept the gift of an 18-hole golf course in a planned development of Quigley Canyon near Hailey, it must pledge to taxpayers it won't get stuck subsidizing a loser with scarce public funds.
Before the district engages in any starry-eyed predictions that golfers will come if the public course is built, it must devise a realistic financial plan. It must take into account that nationally, interest in golf and the number of golfers has been tumbling, notwithstanding the Tiger Woods phenomenon.
- Since 2000, the number of golfers has declined from about 30 million to 26 million, according to the National Golf Foundation. It reports that 3 million golfers quit each year and are not totally replaced.
- Golfers who play 25 times a year have dropped from 6.9 million in 2000 to 4.6 million in 2005. Those that play eight or more times a year also has fallen, from 17.7 million in 2000 to 15 million in 2006.
- "A younger generation that is just not as active" is also part of the cause for declines, according to a University of Massachusetts study, although the study notes growing participation in "new" sports such as skateboarding.
- Golfers who play fewer times a year blame lack of time, working two jobs, participating with children in soccer, and corporate cutbacks in club memberships.
- Some of the nation's 16,000 golf courses are for sale. Several hundred others have already closed.
That the Wood River Valley is a recreational Mecca may change the math, but the Rec District must evaluate any golf plan critically and with eyes wide open.