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By W. Gardner Selby December 5, 2014

Bryant Gumbel says a golf course closes somewhere in America every 48 hours

Talking up a local golf course, an Austin American-Statesman reader caused us to look into a fade-shot claim from HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel.

Bob Brockmann said in a letter published on the newspaper’s editorial page Dec. 2, 2014 that he’d just watched an episode of the program revealing that "golf lost 5 million players in the last 10 years, and as a result one golf course closes every 48 hours in America."

Brockman’s letter also said: "I am an avid golfer and hate to see this trend, but it’s a reality. Let’s try to fight the trend by keeping Muni open," he wrote, referring to the beloved Lions Municipal Golf Course in West Austin that could be developed into a mix of offices, apartments and shops.

Fore! A golf course closes every 48 hours?

In the HBO episode, which debuted in July 2014, Gumbel said: "On average, 130 courses have closed every year for the last eight years, from midwestern Michigan to the coast of California, from the tip of Florida to the top of Minnesota." Gumbel, describing the closings as the hangover after the sport’s explosive growth in the Tiger Woods era, added: "A golf course closes somewhere in America every 48 hours."

By telephone, the producer of the episode, Nick Dolin, told us that according to the National Golf Foundation, 157.5 U.S. golf courses closed in 2013.

That breaks out to one all-holes-down every 56 hours. "We took a slight liberty," Dolin said. "It’s a slight exaggeration."

The foundation, which says it delivers independent market intelligence to keep golf businesses ahead, says on its "frequently asked questions" web page that as of Jan. 1, 2014, there were 15,516 U.S. golf facilities, as in complexes with at least one golf course. The foundation says that compares to 15,890 in 2010 and 16,052 in 2005. As of 2014, Texas was home to 790 facilities; Michigan, New York and California each had more with Florida leading other states with 1,048, according to the page.

There were 157.5 course closures in 2013, the foundation says, with a course defined as having 18 holes, the number that makes up a round of golf. Still, 14 courses opened, the foundation says.

Golf may be slipping in popularity. There were about 25 million golfers age 6 or older in 2012, the foundation says, compared to 30 million in 2005.

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By email, we sought more detail; a foundation spokesman, Marc Blatchley, replied by pointing out a January 2014 foundation newsletter story stating that in 2013, U.S. golf-course closings outpaced openings for the eighth straight year. Blatchley also told us that in Texas in 2013, the equivalent of 8.5 18-hole courses closed and 0.5 courses opened.

The newsletter story said: "The overall reduction in supply is a gradual, natural market correction of the existing imbalance of supply and demand. Since the market correction began in 2006, there has been a cumulative net reduction of 643 golf courses… which represents a drop of about 4% off the peak supply year of 2005.

"However, the cumulative decline over that period should be considered in context," the story said."Over the 20-year period from 1986 to 2005, U.S. golf grew by more than 40%, as more than 4,500 new courses were added."

That’s a new course every 39 hours! (Ok, irrelevant. But par for this story, yes?)

"Although there will be excellent new golf courses being built in the future, the gradual market correction is expected to continue for the next few years," the story said.

Our ruling

Gumbel said a "golf course closes somewhere in America every 48 hours."

In 2013, actually, the rate was one 18-hole course closing every 56 hours and that’s before appropriately taking into account the year’s 14 reported openings, which means the nation experienced one less golf course every 61 hours.

We rate Gumbel’s catchy but only partly accurate statement Half True.

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

Video, "The Future of Golf," from episode 208 of HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, July 22, 2014 (YouTube)

Telephone interview, Nick Dolin, senior coordinating producer, HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, New York, Dec. 2, 2014

Web page, "How many golf courses are there in the U.S., and what are the trends in golf courses?;" web post, "2013 Golf Course Openings & Closures Update,"  Dashboard newsletter, January 2014, National Golf Foundation (accessed Dec. 2, 2014)

Emails, Marc Blatchley, director of membership, National Golf Foundation, Dec. 2-3, 2014

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