As a young athlete in Sarasota, Andy Peterson had a choice of sports. He grew to 6 feet, 6 inches, and was fast and agile. If the game had a ball, Peterson excelled at playing it, so much so that he received a college scholarship for basketball.

But there was one sport Peterson always considered beyond his means. 

“I thought you had to be loaded to be a golfer or be the member of some private club with secret handshakes,” says Peterson, 27, who now works in nursing. “There was no way I could afford it or even that the courses wanted guys like me.”

But for the last few years Peterson has been hooked on golf. It took him three years to break 100. Today, he shoots in the 80s. He honed his game by taking advantage of a summer discount at the Arnold Palmer-designed Legacy Golf Club in Lakewood Ranch that he says was more “cost-efficient than going to the movies.”

“I couldn’t believe how cheap it was,” Peterson says. “Plus, the staff values you and makes you feel appreciated.”

Peterson’s experience is not unique. There may never have been a better time to be a golfer in Southwest Florida—and that’s largely because there has never been a more challenging time for golf course owners, who are seeing too few players for too many courses.

“It’s a buyer’s market,” says Mark Bruce, co-owner of Play Golf Sarasota website and a PGA instructor. “It’s definitely swung to the player’s advantage.”

Statistics compiled by the National Golf Foundation show the magnitude of the game’s decline. The number of golfers who play at least one round a year has dropped from more than 30 million in 2006 to fewer than 24 million in 2015. 

Through July, the number of rounds played

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