Hampton’s golf courses are losing attendance and money. City officials hope an outside consultant can offer some ideas.

Lisa Vernon Sparks, The Daily Press

The pandemic caused a decline in many indoor activities, but outdoor spots such as Hampton’s two golf courses saw more action.

But even a bump in the number of rounds played during the past few months wasn’t enough to turn the tide against declining attendance numbers at The Woodlands and The Hamptons courses.

A city report obtained by the Daily Press presented a multiyear breakout of the number of golf rounds played in each fiscal year beginning in 2013 through fiscal year 2019. In 2013, both courses logged a total of 86,822 rounds played. The following year, that number dropped only by a couple hundred, but the figure has continued to snowball down to 49,646 rounds — roughly a 57% decrease.

Tournament rounds also took a steep dive over the past few years, according to the same report. Last year, a Hampton end-year audit showed both courses had financial trouble and ran deficits, something that has not improved much during 2020.

City officials, aware of the trend, plan to hire a consultant in the next few weeks to study on both courses.

“You can see clearly a decline in golfing. It only makes you wonder if you need two courses ... and the connection with the rounds and how they declined and how much of a shortfall there is in those two courses,” Vice Mayor Jimmy Gray said. “What we have right now is not sustainable. What we need to do is to make the golf courses more viable or accommodate all of this with a single golf course.”

Gray raised the topic in October after Parks, Recreation and Leisure Director Dave McCauley gave an update on all department activities, including pending and capital projects, including improvements done to the courses’ sand bunkers.

“It’s true that the two golf courses have not had sufficient revenue to cover operating costs recently,” McCauley said later in an email. “You can see that called out in the budget because it’s an enterprise fund intended to be run more like a business. Trends in golf have been changing recently, and it’s an appropriate time to evaluate our courses.”

The Hamptons course on Butler Farm Road is a sprawling 27-hole layout. The Woodlands is close to Hampton University and has 18 holes. Revenues for both come from greens fees, equipment rentals, merchandise sales; The Hamptons gets some revenue from its driving range.

An in-house year-end audit report, called the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal 2020 year showed The Hamptons is running a deficit of $4.8 million and The Woodlands a deficit at just over $1 million.

A similar report the previous suggested the decline comes from a lack of interest from millennials compared to older generations.

Gray, an avid golfer, suggested given the current numbers that perhaps Hampton can get by with one nice course, but would be up to the experts to say if one is sufficient, he said.

It’s not the first time Hampton considered giving up one of its golf courses, or at least some of the acreage.

In 2018, when Amazon sought to build a new headquarters on the east coast, Hampton made a long shot bid and was ready to offer up Fort Monroe and some of the Woodlands property.

“We are not jumping to a conclusion to close a golf course,” Gray said. “We need to figure out how can we do something with our golf courses to bring the number of rounds back to where we were in 2013? Is there a reason why we lost that? That’s why we need a consultant to look at those numbers, interview people and tell us why we are losing rounds ... and whether or not we can recover.”

Lisa Vernon Sparks, 757-247-4832, lvernonsparks@dailypress.com