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Archive for March, 2014

As I travel around the country consulting with municipalities, I see a lot of proposals and activities related to renovating and updating “tired” municipal golf courses. In some cases, the municipalities are seeking to drastically upgrade their facility so as to fundamentally change the very nature and operating structure of the golf course and clubhouse. I can tell you from my 25 years of experience in golf facility consulting – this sometimes works and it sometimes doesn’t.

Below I offer some very basic opinions in defining the characteristics of muni golf renovations that tend to work and which characteristics tend not to work. These observations are not meant to be scientific, but reflect general observations of my field work over the last quarter century.

Municipal golf course renovations are more often successful when the project:

  • Broadens the appeal of the golf course

  • Is supported by existing regular players

  • Does not lead to drastic fee increases

  • Includes re-branding when there is a major upgrade

  • Includes appropriate clubhouse amenities to match the golf experience

  • Is a strong fit with the surrounding neighborhood

  • Includes expanded and upgraded practice amenities (range, chipping, putting)

Municipal golf course renovations tend to struggle when the project:

  • Leads to a high level of new debt or bond issue tied to the golf course (i.e. Revenue Bond)

  • Is opposed by existing regular players

  • Leads to large fee increases

  • Relies on outside, or infrequent golfers for support

  • Changes the basic character of the property so it no longer reflects the neighborhood

  • Goes too far with expanded clubhouse amenities (banquets, lockers, restaurant)

In short, I can say that there are many municipally-owned golf courses out there that would benefit from improvements to facilities, both golf course and clubhouse. Thus, I think my message here is to be careful and have a good plan upfront. Upgrades can benefit the golf course and the municipality, but should not be completed “at any cost” and there should be an established ceiling to the proposed investment.

Funding Options / Naming Rights

Another layer to add to this story is the price tag for golf facility improvements that often run into the millions of dollars, thus leading to the question – how to pay for it. Some ideas that I have seen lead to success for funding muni golf improvements, other than going into debt include:

  • Grant Funding – finding some type of grant to help defray specific costs, such as neighborhood, transportation, waterway/bridges, parks / conservancy grants.

  • Public / Private Partnerships – Finding a private company willing to fund (or help fund) improvements in exchange for certain rights (property, management, development, etc.).

  • Sponsorships – Finding a partner willing to sponsor specific projects in exchange for recognition.

  • Naming Rights – Finding a partner willing to pay for naming rights to a specific project – i.e. the “Big Corporation” clubhouse at XYZ Golf Course, Or the “John Q. Public” Pavilion at ABC Golf Course.

Thanks for your attention. I sincerely hope the information is useful. In the next postings we will continue our discussion of ideas to help support the long-term health of the golf industry we all hold so dear.

See you down the road.

Richard Singer

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