December 13, 2021
When courses close and freezing temperatures set in, December can often seem like the worst golf month of the year. Freezing conditions aside, nothing was colder than the rating of golf in the annual municipal budgets of the past few years, often discussed in the last month of the calendar.
Should we sell the golf course (s)?
For how many years have golf courses been in the red?
Is there anything better we could do with this country?
They are circumscribed questions, but they represent much of what park departments, course councils, and local government committees discussed in the mid to late 2010s. Golf was more than 15 years away from its tiger boom. For munis, December was always a time of existential decline.
But December 2021 is not like that. In December 2021, the prospects for munis suddenly feel very good. Norwich Golf Club in Connecticut saw sales increase 15% in 2020. The city board of directors then set an adjusted, reasonable sales target for 2021, and the square topped that by 17%. December has become a month for Norwich to announce profits and they are now exploring what can be improved by using those funds in 2022.
Last week, the company that manages Pennsylvania’s White Deer Golf Course wrote a check for $ 25,000 and presented it to a meeting of the Lycoming County Commissioners. The Williamsport Muni had reached a self-sustaining level and was now giving something back to the county. Surplus profit with a Muni. What a thought!
Sherrill Park Golf Course, a muni north of Dallas, has seen the number of rounds played increase by 28% over the past two years. They turn this into an improved drainage system and facility renovation. We haven’t worked hard to pick happy Muni stories for 2021 – these are just announcements we’ve seen on Muni Monday HQ for the past 10 days.
Communal courses are the lifeblood of this game in many ways. They exist to take care of the customer, not to make a profit. When Marysville Golf Course in Michigan recently proposed a modest 3% membership increase, councilors asked a simple question. “Is 3% enough?” Would we be better off with a larger increase? “It’s enough to get things done,” said Mark Thompson, according to local newspaper The Voice. “We had a good year in the 2021 calendar. Hopefully three percent will be enough for another good year in 2022. “
When the other local Rockford, Illinois golf courses closed in early December, Swanhills was open. The temps were high, the players appeared. Two hundred and thirty-two of them! And thus December 2nd – a Thursday! – became Swanhill’s biggest day of the year and hit the headlines on the Rockford Register Star. The late-season infusion helped make 2021 the best year the course had seen in over a decade.
We can imagine the “Covid boom” that golf has experienced in the last 20 months as a nice boost for a sport that urgently needed it. But now that it has spanned two full seasons, it may be time to look at it as an example of a positive microeconomic cycle as well. Basically, the more you attach it to a golf course, the more improvements that golf course can make itself, making the golfing experience better for the players.
Los Alamos County Golf Course is a great example. Just over 19,000 people live in Los Alamos County, north of Albuquerque, New Mexico. They have a communal course, and it has been starving for improvement for years. Great news: get these improvements too! Money has been allocated for a major overhaul of the irrigation system and a refined driving range – but the government approval process is slow. These plans have been researched for years. The course operators presented themselves to the locals several times this year and adjusted accordingly.
But what is the fastest way to approve improvements and to actually complete them at muni? “One of the things you will look at first is, ‘Well, what have you been showing us lately in terms of your numbers?'” Said Mike Lippiatt, course manager at LACGC. “‘How are your sales looking? What are your laps What is your number of users? Things like this.
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“When we see the increases we’ve achieved over the past year, we’re much better able to get things on your wish list.” Sounds business simple and straightforward. If your rounds are down and your numbers are not positive, you have likely seen this story play out in your own local muni for the past decade. The wish list grows and is never prioritized.
LACGC runs for a fiscal year from July to June, which meant Lippiatt’s most recent “numbers” did not include the entire country’s Covid shutdown of golf courses between March 2020 and May. In other words, the past fiscal year at LACGC was just sauce, baby! And it led Lippiatt to successfully advocate three small but crucial changes: an automatic range ball dispenser, a handicapped-accessible golf cart, and an update to its fiber optic infrastructure for maintenance staff. The latter replaces an outdated system and will help you to maintain the space more efficiently.
These types of improvements may not be noticeable. You won’t be making headlines on the course website. They may not affect the rounds of many visitors. But they made LACGC a better and more efficient place. And they are directly the result of increased play over the past 20 months. Los Alamos County Golf Course players will rightly benefit from the money they have invested in this state recreational facility. When the course reopens in 2022, the cycle will continue.
Zak is the brand’s utility infielder, spanning digital, print and video. Its primary role is to host various GOLF.com video properties and podcasts. Check out his travels on Destination Golf and his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:
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