Golf on the Upswing in West Michigan | News
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - We often hear about various "signs" our economy is improving, like drops in unemployment numbers.
But economists also look at some "unconventional" indicators, like salon visits, underwear sales, and golf memberships.
Most golf courses in West Michigan track their membership numbers January through May, and some managers say they saw a big jump in new members and public play this year compared to 2011.
It's a national trend. Economists say the spike shows Americans are willing to spend extra, disposable money on a very expensive game. Tee times increased at both public and private courses.
For insight on job gains and quarterly profits, you can look inside at the usual floor of the stock market for answers.
Or, look a little further, to the greens, for signs more green is hopefully making its rounds into Americans' pocketbooks.
"Rounds are definitely up, certainly a portion of that is economy related. We've been up every month of the year," said Todd Loughin, general manager at Mines Golf Club in Grand Rapids.
Golf is on the upswing across West Michigan. Memberships are up 20 percent at Thousand Oaks Golf Club and other courses in the area.
"It's a leisure thing. If people are doing that more often, it probably means things are getting a little bit better," said Chris Johnson, Thousand Oaks Marketing Membership Sales Manager.
Scott Baker recently signed up with Mines Golf Club, which reports a 20 percent jump in new members, and a 35 percent increase in non-member play this year over 2011. Baker says the $950 annual fee is the most affordable route for him.
"It's cheaper if you pay all upfront. I had friends that golfed here and it was close to home," said Baker.
Fees at the public Mines Golf Club have stayed the same for the past three years, but Thousand Oaks raised their rates this winter and cut days the public could come out. It's part of their transition to a private-run course.
Still, business is booming.
"We took two days of public golf out of the week and we're still producing about the same amount of public rounds," said Johnson.
Is it a telling sign locals are feeling more financially confident?
The golf course managers hope even greener days lie ahead.
Loughin said the mild winter also helped increase revenue. People came out to play in February and March.
As for who's buying the memberships? Johnson says it's a mix of everyone; Loughin says it's mostly the retired crowd.
Now, back to the underwear and other "unconventional" indicators.
According to a recent article by Time magazine, more people are eating out at full-scale dining restaurants, not fast- food joints. Also, more mobile homes were sold, which is considered a harbinger for the larger housing market.
For the rest of the list, click here: Unconventional Indicators.