Washington's public course golfers, accustomed to two- and three-hour waits to play on weekends and holidays, will get little relief in the next five years, according to the National Golf Foundation.
Only two courses in the Washington are under construction or on the planning board, and one of them is a par-3 course connected with a housing development in Annapolis. According to the foundation, based in North Palm Beach, Fla., this is typical of all national regions except the Sun belt.
The 1960s and '70s saw an emphasis on facility development. The '80s, with the constant threat of rising inflation, promises to be a decade of player development, especially among the nation's youth. That is the direction being followed by the National Golf Foundation, a clearinghouse for golf data subsidized by manufacturers, the Professional Golfers Association, the PGA tour and the United States Golf Association.
The public courses are thriving, despite rising costs that escalate greens fees. Typical is the Algonkian public course, which is operated by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority as part of a complex bought from Potomac Electric Power Company six years ago.
Since NVRPA purchased the course, greens fees have risen $2, to $7 on weekdays and $8 on weekends. Dave Brown, a NVRPA executive, projects that greens fees may be as much as $10 and $12 by 1985, given the current rate of inflation and the fact that fees account for 62 percent of the NVRPA budget. Approximately 40,000 rounds were played at Algonkian last year; Brown figures the course's limit is about 45,000 annually.
Country clubs, which suffered through some shaky times in the '70s, have had a resurgence in the early '80s, according to the National Golf Foundation. But they, too, have been feeling the pinch of inflation, although Washington-area clubs should fare better than the national trend, according to Aubrey King, director of public affairs for the National Club Association.
Generally, the more affluent the club, the less likely it will be involved in a trend in the next five years to cut back on such frills as full-service dining rooms and to rent out facilities more for public use, according to King.
Some clubs place advertisements in the newspapers. A few years ago, such advertising was unheard of for a country club.
But a few years ago, it didn't take $215,000 annually to maintain a regulation golf course. Much of that cost is for manpower so, by necessity, new courses are being designed to be more difficult, with less fairway and much wilderness. Golf ball sales should zoom.
"Less fairway means less expense," said Paul Spatatora, director of research for the National Golf Foundation. "The less fairway means the fewer people it takes to keep up a golf course. When you build a golf course like that, you build up slow play."
Building up slow play runs counter to developing more players, the foundation's goal for the '80s.
"There are virtually no hitting areas in new courses," said Spatatora. "The national average for a round of golf is 90. But now people will have trouble breaking 100, and lose six or seven balls doing it. It will discourage play."
Yet, golf seems much stronger going into the '80s than it did in the middle of the '70s. The country clubs, which staggered under political pressures in the late '70s designed to take away their favored tax status, have banded together in a common lobbying effort.
King of the National Club Association expects more legislative attempts to take away the favored tax status of some area clubs. Such attempts have failed recently in the Maryland ligislature.
According to the National Golf Foundation, there are 70 regulation golf courses in the six Maryland counties surrounding Washington, and 47 of them are private clubs. In the five Virginia jurisdictions surrounding the city, there are 37 regulation golf courses, 22 of them private clubs. In the District, there are three public courses and what NGF classifies as a private course at the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home.
Inflation also is adding to the cost of equipment, especially clubs. Some manufacturers feel that they are pricing themselves out of the market with the traditional nine-irons, four woods set of clubs. Many have started or will soon start making matched seven-club sets of five irons and two woods.
"Beginners don't need 14 clubs," said Syl Wagasky of Odenton, Md., the regional representative of the National Golf Foundation.
The latest in the state of the art in equipment is a more limber shaft than normal. Bill Strausbaugh, pro at Columbia Country Club and one of the nation's best-known golf teachers, says the shaft encourages better swings. "Hitting the proper shot is 90 percent swing and 10 percent equipment," said Strausbaugh.
But most hackers swing with too much hand-and-arm motion and not enough body motion. The Matzie, as this limber-shafted club is called, looks something like a club used by a trick-shot artist. But the proper body motion results in the shaft remaining taut and the shot working. "Tremendous teaching club," said Strausbaugh.
At $110 per wood and $92 per iron, it is unlikely to catch on.
However, as Tony Marlowe, the Woodmont Country Club pro, put it: "Golf will always survive."