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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Augusta, Georgia is famous for golf.

Unidentified Man: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the 2010 Masters.

(Soundbite of applause)

MONTAGNE: But another golf course in the city, which happens to be the oldest, may close down, because it's not attracting enough players. Hundreds of golf courses across the country face the same problem. From Augusta. Sea Stachura reports from Augusta.

SEA STACHURA: The Augusta Municipal Golf Course doesn't have the same secluded allure as the Augusta National, where the Masters is played. But it does have stories. Caddies once began their training here in the hopes of working at the National.

(Soundbite of golfer hitting ball)

STACHURA: On this overheated afternoon, a lone golfer practices his swings, and Ed Howerton takes a cart onto the greens. Howerton manages the 82-year-old course.

Mr. ED HOWERTON (Manager, Augusta Municipal Golf Course): Actually, most of the property of this course came from the old Camp Hancock, which was a World War I military base.

STACHURA: Howerton points out the trenches. You can't help but also notice the bald spots that mark the green. That's how the course got its nickname - the Patch. But Howerton knows a different story.

Mr. HOWERTON: That's what I've heard the rational is, is it actually came from a patch of area behind the clubhouse that used to grow tomatoes.

STACHURA: History aside, the Patch has run a deficit for the last several years, and the city can't afford to keep it open. Many other courses have the same problem. The National Golf Foundation expects at least 500 courses to close between now and 2015. Greg Nathan is a spokesman at the NGF.

Mr. GREG NATHAN (Spokesman, NGF): A lot of the closures are in a small-town, nine-holers that were built in the '50s and '60s.

STACHURA: Nathan says those smaller, simpler greens can't compete with the luxury courses that swamped the market in the '90s. Golf course construction zoomed past the nation's interest in golf, and Nathan says that was partly because of real estate.

Mr. NATHAN: There was a significant demand - and still is - for that dream of having a house on a golf course. So a lot of entrepreneurs got very wealthy building golf course real estate developments.

STACHURA: Inevitably, the courses didn't have enough players to stay open. Public courses and golf resorts have closed in every state, from Indiana to Florida and Nevada.

Spike Kelley owns Goshen Plantation, a public course in Augusta. He says his course is emptier than it was five years ago, and that's because the number of courses in Augusta is still growing. So he's lowered prices and gone looking for new golfers.

Mr. SPIKE KELLEY (Owner, Goshen Plantation Golf Course): We aggressively attract the lady golfers, seniors - they're a very cost-oriented group. We actually allow juniors to play free. Also, it gets their parents to be involved, and maybe they'll play golf out here, as well.

STACHURA: Kelley says he's getting by. But the number of golfers is going down. The National Golf Foundation reports that in 2005, 30 million people played golf. Today, that's down three million. They also play less.

(Soundbite of golfer hitting ball)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: It's like...

STACHURA: Joe Lewis and Ralph Deas defy that trend. They are out on the course three mornings a week. Deas takes his time at the tee, and there's no one in line behind him.

Mr. RALPH DEAS: Yeah, I see the dip. I definitely see that. We both say, man, this is such a beautiful course. I wonder why there's not that many people here like there used to be? But when things get tight, this is the first thing you let go.

STACHURA: For now, Deas can afford it. With a membership at Goshen, a game of golf costs him less than $20. And that makes it a golfer's market.

For NPR News, I'm Sea Stachura in Augusta, Georgia.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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