If I Was… An Owner Of A Daily-Fee Golf Course

By Jim McNaney









  1. without previous instance; never before known or experienced; unexampled or unparalleled:

       an unprecedented event. (Source… dictionary.com)

Never before has a word been so often spoken without sounding overused. Frankly, everything that is happening now, while possibly similar to other eras, does not have an equal. So, the almost constant utterance of unprecedented seems about right.

The trick is how do we respond? The reality that the future is guaranteed to no one has never been so clear and while we may not know what lies ahead, we have the opportunity to shape that future.

When Minnesota Governor Tim Walz shut down the economy many in the golf industry wondered if we would survive. Fortunately, golf courses re-opened in relatively quick time. Other businesses took a bit longer but did re-open. Golf seemed to have survived the economic tsunami.

But like any natural disaster, the hard work begins after the storm. All the debris needs to be removed and the damage assessed. What did we lose? In truth, not that much. A few early weeks when spring revenue would help to make the season easier. A little more in the way of food and beverage sales. All things considered, we got lucky.

Today, as I watch the activity at most if not all area courses, I’m left with the thought that the golf industry has a golden opportunity to emerge from the rubble a stronger and more vibrant industry.

Rounds played are through the roof. The absence of many youth sports means more children might/will take up the game. Additionally, more parents, instead of driving all over the country for their kids’ athletic events, will be home and have the time to play golf. If we are lucky, they play golf with their children from time to time.

Take a drive around the metro on any sunny afternoon and you will see driving ranges and practice facilities full in the middle of a weekday. Social distancing in the workplace means more people working from home. It is much easier to “take lunch” at the golf course when someone wants to escape the “home office.”

Factors like these are why if I owned a daily fee course right now… I’d invest. I’d invest in my facility and I would invest big.

I would first start investing in the maintenance team. New equipment, more staff, better pay. With so many people unemployed, it is the perfect opportunity to find quantity and quality of staff. Better equipment means better playing conditions. Better playing conditions is always one of the main reasons golfers come back to a particular course. The course is, after all, our main product.

Second, I would spend as much money as possible on the practice facilities. Make sure the range tee is managed and rotated properly so people don’t have to roam around looking for fresh turf. Make practicing easier with credit/debit card accepting ball machines. With the way commerce is digitally conducted everywhere, the days of tokens should be over for good. Promote the practice facilities as your second product, not just a place for players to “warm up.” Actively promote professional instruction, junior camps, clinics, demo days anything and everything that shows off where people can find improvement. Partner with businesses groups that will help invest and promote your future.

Finally, I would spend a ton of resources in hiring and training the best staff possible. The more time we spend hiring and training great golf staff, the better our future is. Staff is routinely one of the other top reasons players return to a course. Again, with the number of people unemployed at the moment, we could be their path to their own economic recovery and start a larger economic resurgence.

Admittedly, none of these ideas are novel. Truth be told, it is what every golf professional and general manager have been trained to do. Unfortunately, more often seasonal businesses tend to get mired in cost savings and avoid the perceived risk of spending money. We have this one moment in time.

If we are bold in our thinking and broad in our spending, we can not only see massive returns in our personal businesses, we can be a part of helping people get back on their feet. We can help others feel a sense of normalcy. No matter how much upheaval there is, people need something to relieve stress. Many times, that can take the form of something counter-productive or even unhealthy. We can be that calm.

Notice I did not mention F&B. That will always be a part of the golf experience but, honestly, just having a good burger or brat and a place to comfortably sit and enjoy a beverage after the round is really all we need.

These are indeed unprecedented times. There are no perfect answers but I believe the bolder we are and the more we invest, the more we will receive.