As people’s discretionary spending remains low nationwide, golf courses in Haywood County are trying to drive their way out of a bunker with price cuts and special offers aimed at drawing in atypical players.
Golf courses in the Haywood County are, at the very least, trying to stay on par with past numbers — be it the number of rounds played or total revenue earned.
“It’s a luxury,” said Jay Manner, the general manager at Maggie Valley Club & Resort. “We understand that golf is important to a lot of people, but it isn’t shelter or food.”
To help golfers save, the club is waving its initiation fee for anyone who signs an 18-month membership commitment.
The decline in golf has mostly taken its toll among casual, or “fringe” golfers, said Duane Paige, the general manager of Laurel Ridge Country Club.
Core golfers, a term Paige uses for those who play two, three or even four rounds a week, have been less likely to let up on their game in the recession.
But fringe golfers, those who played once or twice a month, have backed off, perhaps only playing every other month now, Paige said. And those who used to play very other month might now play just twice a year — or not at all.
Manner said the Maggie Club is “cautiously optimistic” about its numbers this year, particularly given the unseasonably warm winter. The course was up 1,000 rounds of golf in April compared to the prior year.
However, more rounds does not automatically translate to more money coming in. Several years ago, a round at the Maggie Valley Club was around $90. Today, its about $60. The club also moved its twilight hours up. Golfers with tee times after 2 or 3 p.m. would typically pay discounted rates because of the late start. Now that rate has been extended to those who tee off after 1 p.m.
The Waynesville Inn is no different, offering limited time play passes that are cheaper than a full-fledged membership, though without some of the perks.
The passes are “for that golfer that wants to play golf but doesn’t want to tie up money in a membership,” said Tom Halterman, general manager at Waynesville Inn Golf Resort & Spa. “We have gained a great deal of the local play” as a result, he said.
Halterman said that he thinks younger generations are put-off by the lifestyle a golf club membership portrays.
“Today’s generation they are not interested in that type of thing,” Halterman said. “Membership tends to scream stuffy.”
Courses that were once almost entirely private have opened up their fairways to outside play as a way top counter the decline.
“If we can bring in some amount of outside play that helps supplement our income,” said Paige. Laurel Ridge is now among those semi-private courses that accept outside play.
“We are always looking to help people enjoy our golf course because if they do we hope they become a member one day,” Paige said.
Golf course managers with a long view of their sport are perhaps most troubled by the declining number of younger golfers there to replace their aging core clientele.
Paige said the decline in play among younger golfers isn’t due solely to the economy. Men, who still account for the majority of golfers, typically spend more time with their families on the weekend. They are more likely to be involved in activities with their children and have household responsibilities than men in previous generations.
That’s led Paige to look for ways to get the whole family out to the course, including wives and children. Laurel Ridge offers junior golf camp in the summer, as well as special Tee-It-Forward rounds where the tee box is moved closer on the fairway to make the course doable for youth.
Maggie Valley Club is trying to get kids into the sport by offering junior golf lessons for all ages. That way, when the kids are learning to swing and putt, the parents can enjoy the golf course themselves or the club’s other amenities. Otherwise, people just don’t have the time to devote to golf nowadays as they did in the past.
“They’ve got kids, families,” Manner said. “They don’t have 4 to 4.5 hours.”
Likewise, golf courses are not capturing as much of the baby boomer generation as they expected, given that many people are being forced to work well past retirement age.
In hindsight, the proliferation of golf courses developments aimed at retirees and second-home buyers during the real estate heyday of the early 2000s was perhaps overly optimistic, Paige said.
“We were predicting continued prosperity that if you built it, they would come,” Paige said of the region’s outlook. “So we overbuilt. We have a little bit more supply than we have demand.”
Staff Writer Becky Johnson contributed to this story
Swain County’s Department of Social Services has started cracking down on welfare fraud after seeing a rise in violations.
“We have found that welfare fraud is on the rise,” reported Melissa Adams, a fraud caseworker, who spoke to the Swain County Board of Commissioners last week.
Since March 2011, Swain County DSS has helped prosecute eight cases of welfare fraud, each ranging from $4,500 to more than $24,000 in claims. It is currently conducting 238 investigations into alleged fraud. It is unknown how much money that translates to.
“Our agency has been working diligently in prosecuting welfare fraud,” Adams said.
Most investigations begin with a phone call from a concerned citizen or another agency. Since Jan. 1, the county has received 54 calls about possible fraud and initiated 15 investigations on its own after red flags were raised during the application process.
“We rely heavily on the reports we receive,” said Janet Jones, the chief fraud investigator with Swain County DSS.
Social service agents cited the economy as a likely reason for increase in fraud.
“Truthfully, it is probably the economy. People are struggling and looking for a way to survive,” Jones said. Jones has also started working on fraud cases full-time, allowing her to investigate a claim further to determine if it was a case of intentional fraud.
Sharon Blazer, Haywood County social services’ chief fraud investigator, agreed.
“I think, with the economy and everything, it is on the rise,” Blazer said. “I don’t think it ever stops; I think it just gets worse.”
The number of calls that Haywood County receives regarding welfare fraud varies from month to month. Some of the complaints can be difficult to verify.
Prosecuting welfare fraud can be difficult if the county cannot prove that someone intentionally deceived the system. Either they claim that they don’t have a job or are double dipping into the federal welfare coffers. Some things, like the number of people who live in the home, are hard to substantiate.
“There is not a way for use to actually verify that,” Blazer said.
However, if a discrepancy is found no matter whether it’s intentional, inadvertent or an error made by the department of social services, the person receiving benefits is required to repay the money that they were not supposed to get.
The state of North Carolina has seen an increase in fraud overall as well. As of April 2012, the departments of social services were investigating almost 780,000 active cases.
From October 2011 to March 2012, departments in North Carolina have received more than 11,000 referrals about possible fraud. The claims are equal to about $7.1 million — a more than $1 million increase compared to the same time last year.
Although welfare fraud has been around for as long as welfare programs have existed, people are taking it to a different level to get by, according to DSS investigators.
“Now, it is going a little further,” said Pam Hooper, an investigator with Jackson County’s DSS. “It’s got everything to do with the economy, I’m sure.”
Jackson County saw its highest number of cases, investigating nearly 350, during fiscal year 2010. That number declined to 116 cases the next year, but Hooper said it is a result of policy changes. Welfare programs no longer take into account facts like how much money a person has tucked away in savings or whether they just bought a new car.
“Change in policy has made a big difference,” Hooper said.
In Swain County, Jones said, a new car purchase still sets off red flags and prompts DSS officials to look into that person.
Unlike its neighboring county, the number of cases investigated in Macon has stayed about the same, according to its DSS.
The county is currently investigating 68 cases, equal to more than $45,000 in claims.
The Fund for Haywood County recently handed out $16,000 in grants to county nonprofits providing services for recession relief.
The Fund for Haywood County, an affiliate of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, was established in 1994 by a group of local residents as a permanent endowment and resource for charitable efforts that benefit Haywood County.
The grantees are:
• The Community Kitchen — $2,600 to support a food ministry that provides hot, nutritious meals and food boxes to poor and struggling individuals in Canton.
• Crabtree, Iron Duff, Hyder Mountain Community Development Club — $1,400 toward emergency assistance with heating and utilities to keep residents safe and warm in their homes despite economic hardship.
• Fines Creek Community Association — $2,000 to purchase a freezer, increasing storage for the distribution of nutritious foods through the federal Emergency Food and Assistance Program, especially for seniors and mothers with children in this rural community in Haywood County.
• Good Samaritan Clinic of Haywood County — $4,000 toward operating expenses including medical supplies, staffing and other necessary expenses to continue the free medical clinic serving uninsured adults.
• Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church — $2,000 toward the Open Door program that provides food and emergency assistance to families struggling with basic needs as a result of the recession in Haywood County.
• REACH of Haywood County, Inc. — $4,000 toward operating expenses of the emergency shelter providing housing to women and children displaced from their homes due to domestic violence
To help The Fund for Haywood County, donate online at www.cfwnc.org or by mail to The Fund for Haywood County, P.O. Box 627, Waynesville, NC, 28786. Contributions of any size are welcome and are tax-deductible. For more information, contact 828.734.6791.
Local libraries report that more people are streaming through their doors as a direct result of the recession. Area residents are increasingly heading to the library rather than doling out dollars for books, CDs and DVDs, as well as newspapers, magazines and Internet subscriptions.
“They look for the free option,” said Jeff Delfield, librarian at the Marianna Black Library in Bryson City. “Why buy a brand new John Grisham book for $25 to $30 when they have it for free at the library?”
Libraries have also seen more attendance at workshops on topics that are especially relevant during a recession, such as tips on writing an effective resume or searching for jobs online.
The Marianna Black Library’s latest statistics show a 12 percent increase in door count and a 20 percent increase in total program attendance in July and August, compared to figures from the same period in 2008.
Employees at the Marianna Black Library were delighted to see a record 466 people walk in on a single day in July. A week later, the newly instituted record was broken again with 476 visitors in just one day.
Dan Sikorra, a Bryson city resident and realtor, is one frequent visitor to the Marianna Black library. Sikorra said he visits the library two or three times a week to catch up on latest news in The Wall Street Journal, as well as other periodicals and magazines.
Sikorra has always enjoyed making the walk over to the library from his office to get a much-needed break, but with the weak economy, Sikorra said he is finding himself at the library more than ever.
“Before, I used to not be able to leave the office,” said Sikorra.
Though some librarians might be happy to see more people like Sikorra coming in simply because of a passion for their calling, there is definitely a downside to libraries’ success.
“It’s a higher burden on the staff,” said Delfield.
While for-profit businesses can add on more employees with an increase in clientele, libraries just have to make do with the staff they already have.
Thankfully, Swain County commissioners did not cut the library’s budget this year, but they did not provide the library an increase to accommodate its growing number of patrons either.
Libraries across the Fontana Regional Library System — which represents Jackson, Macon and Swain counties — have seen their door counts and circulation increase in the past year.
The total number of people visiting those libraries is up about 6 percent from the previous year, while 12 percent more items were checked out this year.
“We’re glad that people are using the library. It’s a good value for taxpayers,” said Karen Wallace, director for the Fontana Regional Library system.
Robert Busko, library director for Haywood County Public Library, said libraries in that county have yet to monitor door counts; however, there are noticeable signs of a rise in clientele.
“Our computers are used virtually the entire time we’re open in all our branches,” said Busko. “Parking is a continued problem for us. We are much busier than we have been.”
Busko said Haywood libraries are doing their part to help ease the effects of the recession.
“We changed the circulation period from two weeks to three weeks,” said Busko. The change was made partly to allow patrons to save on gas and ironically, make fewer trips to the library.
Amy Street thought she could finally afford health insurance this year. But that was before Street’s employer slashed 25 hours from her 40-hour work week.
Street, a 62-year old Waynesville resident, recently applied for retirement and social security benefits, but said while that would help, it’s simply not enough.
When Street was recently told she might have kidney cancer, she fretted about more than her health. She worried she would lose her car and her home trying to scrape up enough money to pay for expensive treatment. Even worse for Street was the possibility of no one being around to care for her disabled daughter.
“I was in shock. Sometimes, I cried. Sometimes, I said wait and see,” said Street.
Luckily, Street learned she did not have cancer, but her continuing kidney problems have driven her to seek on-going care at the Good Samaritan Clinic of Haywood County, one of the few free clinics in Western North Carolina. While she waited for her appointment on a recent afternoon, a fellow patient who did not want to be named said she found out she had cancer just the day before.
Patients like Street represent almost 19 percent of Haywood County residents who are uninsured, a figure that includes 1,400 children.
While the number who can’t afford health insurance is on the rise, free clinics like the Good Samaritan are facing economic woes of their own due to funding cuts, forcing them to scale back services at a time they are needed most.
The Good Samaritan Clinic, which has offices in Waynesville and Canton, has reduced services by 40 percent and is no longer accepting new patients, who once came in droves of 40 each week.
The clinic had 4,500 patient visits last year, but can only afford to see 2,590 this year due to financial constraints.
Haywood County cut half of its funding to the clinic last year and ceased its funding completely this year, although it still allows the clinic to use one of its buildings for just $1 a year.
Donda Bennett, executive director of the clinic, said there’s little the clinic can do but step up fundraising efforts.
“Our budget is cut and dry, as bare as you can make it,” Bennett said. “There’s nowhere to cut it and still provide quality health care.”
At a time of increasing need, free clinics across the area have had to turn away patients.
“We’re seeing a huge number of new patients coming to the clinic. People that have either lost their job or lost their insurance or both,” said Jerry Hermanson, executive director of the Community Care Clinic of Highlands-Cashier. Patients there are now waiting as long as three weeks for their appointment, and though the clinic does allow walk-ins, it has had to send away patients “more and more,” Hermanson said.
Haywood County’s Health Department, which sees 1,000 mostly uninsured, Medicare and Medicaid patients each month, no longer offers clinic hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays and has eliminated five positions. The department’s budget has decreased to almost $4.9 million, compared to about $5.7 million last year.
While government support is important to free clinics, contributions from individuals are just as vital. The Community Care Clinic of Highlands-Cashier has seen donations from individuals fall 20 percent below what was budgeted this year.
The Good Samaritan Clinic of Haywood County is reaching out to individuals and local churches but is still below target.
“A lot of people just think, we’ve been around since 1999, so surely we’ve figured it out and are able to support ourselves,” said Bennett. “Some people might not just realize it totally depends on individuals and organizations.”
While securing grants would certainly help, these types of clinics face tough competition.
“Most grantors want to fund something new and innovative and fun,” said Bennett. But when free clinics can’t even afford basic operational costs, it’s hard to pursue creative projects like the ones that attract potential grantors
Becky Olson, executive director of the Good Samaritan Clinic of Jackson County, also acknowledged that securing grants has been a bigger struggle this year with less money and more competition.
“At this moment, I’m working on four different grants to get a little piece for here, a little piece for there,” she said. The clinic is also trying to get more doctors to volunteer to expand the clinic and accommodate the increase in demand for services.
Meanwhile, the Community Foundation of Western Carolina has recognized the needs of clinics like Good Samaritan and the Community Care Clinic, and provided assistance through its Recession Response grants.
And the Good Samaritan Clinic of Haywood County is receiving help from churches that have stepped up and added the clinic to their budgets.
Dalton’s Christian Bookstore in Waynesville is teaming up with the clinic for nearly three months, to offer customers an opportunity to donate to the clinic, while the clinic will go in and do blood pressure checks on customers.
Good Samaritan continues to give presentations to a lot of churches to hopefully raise awareness about the clinic’s existence, as well as its troubles.
Good Samaritan has been in talks with Haywood Regional Medical Center for two months now to see if the hospital can contribute financially to the clinic, as well as donate medical and office supplies.
HRMC already donates thousands of dollars annually in free laboratory and radiological services to the clinic each year.
“The hospital really realizes that we are struggling right now. By us cutting services, it puts them in a situation where they have to see more people who are uninsured,” said Bennett.
For every patient who does not pay up for an emergency room visit, it costs the hospital an average of $400, according to Good Samaritan’s research.
Carole Larivee, a retired nurse who works part-time at HRMC and volunteers at Good Samaritan, said helping the clinic would be beneficial for the whole community.
“The hospitals can’t turn people away who come to the ER. By the time they get to the ER, treatment is very, very expensive because they had to wait so long,” Larivee said. “Even before I was with Good Samaritan, I would see people admitted to the hospital because they couldn’t go to the doctor for preventative care. They had to get very, very sick.”
By the time the patient got to the ER, it would sometimes be too late, she said. “Whereas, if they had been seen regularly, what was wrong with them could have been treatable.”
Hermanson said about 10 to 12 percent of patients at Community Care Clinic would go to the emergency room if the clinic were not open. But most of the patients he sees at the clinic do not say they would have rushed to the nearest hospital.
“We ask every patient on every visit, ‘If we weren’t here, where would you have gone?’” Hermanson said. “The vast majority of patients say we wouldn’t have sought treatment.”
Carmine Rocco, health director at Haywood County Health Department, emphasized the need for the public to do their best to stay healthy, especially now.
“As more folks become uninsured, it’s even more crucial now that people do what they can personally to help reduce the risk factors that they have control over,” said Rocco.
The underlying issue, though, is that uninsured people who face a chronic condition have trouble managing what would be easy to handle — if they could afford care.
“Most people don’t worry about prevention if they feel well,” said Hermanson. “They may be diabetic and not treating it. Promoting wellness is a great thing, but getting it accomplished is another.”
Hermanson said one of the first patients at his clinic came in with a blood sugar level of more than 500, when 105 is the highest end of normal.
“It’s people like that who end up in the emergency room,” he said.
Street confirmed that it has been difficult for her to stay healthy without insurance.
“It’s really frustrating because you want to be ahead of the game to keep yourself healthy, but you can’t afford to do that,” she said. “It’s disheartening.
Even when patients get in through the door at swamped clinics, some have concerns about the quality of care.
Cynthia Teesateski, 49, said she worried that health care available to the uninsured might not stand alongside the care offered to patients backed by insurance companies.
Street said the urologist she was referred to did not fully inform her about her kidney troubles. It was only after she hunted down information on the Internet that she discovered more about her condition and decided to schedule another appointment at Good Samaritan.
Even if she wonders sometimes about the care she receives at clinics, Teesateski said she glad to have someplace to go to – for now. “As I get older, what’s going to happen? Will I have any place to go?” she asked.
Donna Brooks, a 46-year old patient at Good Samaritan in Canton, said she doesn’t worry about the care she receives at the clinic she refers to as her “lifesaver.” She has even become good friends with her doctor there.
Brooks is an avid supporter of the clinic and hopes it will make it through the recession.
“There should be no reason for these clinics not to stay open,” Brooks said. “If they don’t, not only me, but hundreds of people, are going to be in a world of hell.”