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Area Golf Courses Disappearing As Interest Dwindles

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Recently, the game of leisure seems to have landed in the rough for the region's country clubs and golf courses.

"The kids today, they're doing other things. They want it quick, they want it fast, they want it now," said Mike Choma, of Brackenridge.

There are fewer younger players and even the older ones seem to have less time and cash to play the links.

"Nowadays, people are spending their money differently. Fewer members in the clubs," said Dan Murrer, of REALSTATS.

As a result, courses and clubs are struggling to stay in business. Now, many owners are finding more lucrative uses for the land, or what's under it.

KDKA-TV Investigator Andy Sheehan found three courses, including Grandview in North Braddock, which are in the process of trying to lease land to shale gas exploration.

Others are already shut down and being turned into housing developments. Venango Trails in Warrendale has already been developed, Highland in West View has been approved for development, and Churchill Valley, which has closed in Penn Hills, has been bought by a development company.

"Some of these golf courses are some of the most beautiful properties in western Pennsylvania," Murrer said. "So, developers are seeing the value in that and are converting to homes,"

To survive, some former country clubs have become pay-to-play courses open to the public with no initiation fees, dues or assessments.

Brackenridge Heights had been a country club for nearly a century when it went out of business four years ago for lack of members.

"This was a private place, and if you weren't a member, you weren't allowed here. And it's been that way since 1914," said Rubus Tomson, of Brackenridge Heights.

Last year, the Tomson family bought it at sheriff's sale and decided to change with the times. They dropped the country club label, cemented over the swimming pool, opened the restaurant to the general public and made it a no-frills golf course for everyone.

"People want to go and find the best deal. They don't want to be committed to anything," said Tomson.

Golfers like Mike Choma agree. They like the freedom to play different courses and do so.

"I think it's the way to go now. People don't want to be committed to one course," Choma said.

The recent changes are now an open invitation to all and the Tomsons and courses hope the public will answer.

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