By Jay Fitzgerald, Special to the Boston Business Journal

BOSTON (CBS) – The game of golf rewards players who shoot under par.

But the business of golf is brutal toward golf-club owners who operate courses financially under par — and this coming season shows no sign of let up in the sub-par performance of the business of golf in Massachusetts and across the nation.

Even though the economy is slowly recovering and early season participation in the game appears to be up across the state this spring, golf club owners still face the harsh supply-and-demand reality of too many golf courses for too few players, thanks to the overbuilding of courses in previous decades across the country and a sharp decline in the number of golfers nationwide.

Earlier this week, the Shaker Hills Golf Club in Harvard paid the price for the industry’s supply-and-demand imbalance: The 18-hole course was scheduled to be auctioned off Thursday to the highest bidder, after the club failed to meet its $2.13 million mortgage obligation, filed for bankruptcy and closed this past winter.

Shaker Hills’ demise follows two other recent foreclosure auctions of struggling golf courses in central Massachusetts alone — the Sterling Country Club and the Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton — both of which will try to remain in business under new ownership this season.

Farther west, the Hickory Ridge Country Club in Amherst was auctioned off in March to a New Jersey golf-course management company, while the Scottish Meadow Golf Course in Warren was recently sold to a Florida solar power company that plans to build a new solar facility on the site, the Worcester Telegram has reported.

“There’s still plenty of pain in the industry,” Joe Sprague , executive director of the Massachusetts Golf Association in Norton told the BBJ.

“What we’re seeing right now, with auctions and closures, amounts to what you might call a ‘market correction’ within the industry.”

“There’s been a lot of turnover,” said David Frem, part-owner and general manager of the Cyprian Keyes Golf Club in Boylston.

Cyprian Keyes — which has one 18-hole course and a second nine-hole course — is actually doing better than many other courses. Though the number of rounds played at Cyprian is down about 10 to 15 percent from its peak in 2000, business is starting to pick up as the economy improves and more golfers hit the links, Frem said.

“There’s a part of me who thinks we’re kind of fortunate,” said Frem, noting even steeper long-term declines of player rounds at other courses. “I’m cautiously optimistic heading into 2012.”

But there’s going to have to be a big rebound in the game for the business of golf to regain lost ground.

Across the nation, the number of active golfers has fallen to about 25 million players, down from 30 million seven years ago, for a decline of about 16 percent.

In Massachusetts and New Hampshire alone, there are an estimated 600,000 “lapsed” golfers who are no longer actively involved in the sport, according to figures provided by the U.S. Professional Golfers’ Association.

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal can be seen weekdays at 6 a.m. on WBZ-TV.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter at @lvanderpool.

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