Posts Tagged ‘#municipalgolf’

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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As you all know, golf courses come in all shapes, sizes and operating arrangements. One segment of golf facilities includes the smaller 9-hole, par-3 and executive golf properties that our industry has defined as “Alternative Facilities.” Over the years these facilities have been supported by a market of golfers seeking an easier, faster or less expensive way to enjoy the game of golf. However, in the last decade or so I am seeing more and more economic stress in this segment, leading to reduced quality and even outright closure. This leads me to a few questions: “Is it worth it for the industry to provide support to keep these facilities open given that they tend to provide a passage for beginners?” “Don’t we need shorter and easier golf courses to support the future of our game?”

Before we answer the questions, let me give you a quick primer on short courses in the U.S. As of February 2014, there are 5,144 short courses representing 29% of the total of 17,683 golf courses in the United States. There are 3,230 9-hole courses, 796 par-3 courses and 1,118 executive courses. Only 16% of these facilities are private, meaning the vast majority are open to the public. A total of 1,234 short courses closed in the U.S. between 2001 and 2013, or 65% of the 1,910 total golf course closures in the U.S. over that period. With 299 closures, approximately 25% of the total inventory of par-3 golf courses has closed since 2001. For executive courses, 224 have closed since 2001 (17% of total).

The fact that short courses represent a high share of golf course closures is not news, as we have always known that these facilities have a tough economic model with expenses that are comparable to full-length golf courses and much lower revenues. As a result, operating losses tend to be common with short courses, even when they are operated appropriately and efficiently.

Many of the multi-course municipal golf systems with which I work include shorter golf courses and these tend to be first on the “chopping block” when fiscally-conscious lawmakers look to save taxpayer money. But as I often report to these communities – it is in your interest to provide economic support to the short courses provided they are properly used to create new players that will demand golf at your other full-length facilities.   

So as we watch these facilities slowly and quietly disappear, I am beginning to wonder if the industry should take a more active role in preserving this segment of golf facilities. Short courses have the potential to generate new golfers that can be future customers for equipment, apparel and playing fees – hence the future support of our industry. The key to preserving short courses may be through providing direct economic support and/or creating formalized operating programs that focus on new player development.

So, the moral of this brief story is simple – the golf industry should work to create a mechanism to provide economic and operational support for shorter golf courses, making sure they focus on new player development. Perhaps a new “Short Course Fund” that can accept corporate (and other) donations and provide distributions along with operating materials to troubled alternative facilities. This is just one of the many steps the industry can take to help secure our game for the longer term future.


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

Read Full Post »