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N.J. golf courses saw sharp uptick in play over the summer

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The number of golf rounds played at courses in New Jersey spiked in August, thanks to good weather and what operators say is an improving economy for players.

Golf rounds at more than 65 facilities statewide were up 17 percent from August 2011, according to new data from the PGA of America. The uptick blows out the national increase of 0.5 percent, which is based on responses from some 3,000 facilities.

The surge was felt at many of the 18 courses in the Greater Atlantic City Golf Association, said Tom Sullivan, the group's president and general manager at McCullough's Emerald Golf Links, in Egg Harbor. He said favorable weather played a key part, but was not the only reason.

"It's always going to be a big factor when you're talking about outdoor sports, but what I'm also seeing is people are a little more willing to spend more money per transaction," Sullivan said. "So I'm sensing that people's wallets are opening up a little more."

The positive news comes about three weeks after the association was awarded $250,000 by the state to help market the region's golf courses, part of the broader effort to help revitalize Atlantic City's tourism economy. The funding, from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, is more than three times what the association spent on marketing in 2010.

Figures prepared by the association show that its 2010 marketing dollars led to 21,000 package vacation golf rounds and $7 million in economic activity. In Ocean City, Md., Atlantic City's nearest competition, $600,000 in marketing funds generated 140,000 rounds and $46 million in activity.

Sullivan said the association is now vetting media outlets and trade shows as it prepares to put the marketing dollars to work in 2013. The campaign will largely target groups of "golf vacationers" who "decide they want to go to an area and basically stay two nights at a hotel, enjoy the town during the evening and play anywhere from 18 to 36 holes during the day."

The outlook for 2013 for the state's golfing industry already is positive, said Jeff LeFevre, director of golf at Linwood Country Club. Over the past two months he has found golfers are starting to plan ahead to return to the links, and he expects membership to rise about 10 percent to 12 percent next year.

He attributed the "surprising but very positive" trend to the fact that players are "reprioritizing" after choosing to cut out the pastime when the economy worsened.

"Golf was a huge priority in people's lives," LeFevre said. "When the recession hit, everybody kind of cut wherever they thought they could cut, and now they're going to realize how much they've missed their golf."

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