As golf course managers, you live for days like this, knowing that this ideal weather will entice many customers to the course and put a nice jingle in your cash register.
Those, however, are prime conditions. For those who operate where bad winters abound, a game plan is needed to keep money rolling in. And if Lady Luck is with you, some really dedicated die-hard golfers are gonna come out anyway, even in a driving summer storm, if for no other reason than to just be near the magic of the clubs and accessories in your shop.
Richard Singer, senior director of consulting services of the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Fla., gave a presentation titled “Improving the Profitability of Municipal Golf” at the 2014 Charlotte, N.C., National Recreation & Park Association Congress, which covered ideas on how to generate more cash flow in municipal leaner times.
In his seminar he addressed tips of increasing revenue not only for municipal golf courses, but also for mini-golf courses. He discussed the use of economic loyalty programs and third-party tee time wholesalers as well as how to attract minorities and those who had only a mild interest in the game.
How a municipal golf course can improve its economics involves so many answers and no correct answer, said Singer.
“A golf course is a business like any other, so the best methods to improving profitability generally relate to increasing activity, growing new customers and increasing customer spending per visit,” said Singer. “There may be some things overly ‘bloated’ courses can do to reduce expenses, but most municipal golf courses struggle more with low revenues as opposed to high expenses.
“Golf courses are difficult businesses because they are a high fixed-cost business — greens need to be maintained regardless of whether you host one round or 200 rounds. You are also at the mercy of things you cannot control like weather and the price of gas. Growing and maintaining turf is a challenge — and expensive. Golfers are also a fickle group of customers. Beginners tend to react positively to engagement and programs, rather than just ‘show up’ at a golf course.”
Some golf courses have footgolf courses and specialty-built courses, depending on what space is available, so that is another outlet for more revenue.
According to Tony Cotter, director of Napoleon Parks and Recreation Department in Napoleon, Ohio, the city’s golf course is just nine holes with its operation season from April 1 through Nov. 15.
“Our golf course utilizes various methods to improve profitability and increase revenue,” Cotter said. “We implement special greens and cart fee rates to boost play during nonpeak hours. We also offer discount cards for both greens fees and cart rentals. Individuals can purchase 10 pre-sale greens fee rounds and 10 nine-hole rentals at a 20 percent discount of the normal price.”
He added, “In the summer months, we offer a junior program to attract new, younger players to the golf course and to teach them the game. During the slower months in the fall, we offer our ‘fall rates’ that typically lower fees by 25 percent. Our course is closed during the winter season. We do not have a restaurant so our clubhouse remains closed.” Chris Davis, superintendent of Parks and Recreation of the city of Nappanee, Ind., keeps his golf course pro shop open in the winter for merchandise sales.
“We also have a golf simulator that is open for indoor golf and golf lessons,” said Davis. Meanwhile Steve Grimes, director of Parks and Recreation in Bettendorf, Iowa, has fashioned a unique solution for his Palmer Hills Golf Course in winter.
“We are constantly looking at ways to enhance the experience at Palmer Hills Golf Course,” said Grimes. “Recently we have completed a number of enhancements to the physical aspect of the course that include a new modified tee system that better accommodates players of all ability levels; renovated bunkers and additional forward tee boxes; and we are looking at other potential improvements that will attract new users to the golf course and keep expenses down. We are also planning some upgrades to our clubhouse restaurant, the ‘Palmer Grill.’ We’re also constantly trying to improve our levels of customer service.
“One of our biggest challenges for our operation at Palmer Hills, besides the weather, is attracting new people to the course and shedding the image that it is a difficult course to play,” said Grimes. “We have a plan to add a short course with four to six holes in the 100-yard range or less and a large putting green area that would have new challenges built into it. We have also added sledding and cross-country skiing (including rentals) for the winter months. We hope this will also enhance the Grill’s revenues and value as a recreational amenity to the community as a whole.”
As for the plan to create a short course and large putting green area, Grimes said, “The challenges at the putting green will be the extreme size and undulation of the putting surface that will make it fun for all ability levels. We will be able to set up an 18-hole putting course for fun and competition as well.”
Then when it comes to improving customer service, Grimes said, “We are remodeling the Grill area itself and will be enhancing the deck area as well. We’re modifying the menu, too, and working with staff training to enhance our service standards.” He continued, “We’re planning more special events and will be adding more TVs in the Grill and one for the deck area.”
As for advertising that attracts novices, women and less-traditional golfers, Grimes concluded, “We are planning to use a variety of marketing sources, including a heavy blitz with social media, to get the word out on these new opportunities to new potential users as well as our traditional markets. We will off er some new and unique events to draw people in, too.”
There you have it — so very soon plan to say “Hello!” to your first spring customers with new attractions, events or upgrades. Convince folks on their morning commutes to think better of it and come play golf on your beautiful courses instead.