For more than 30 years, I’ve studied the factors that contribute value to golf course properties. That’s what golf course appraisers do: We assess what a course property is worth, and consult to clients seeking to increase that value (because they might be selling the course) or perhaps decrease it (because they might be paying taxes on it; check that, they’ll definitely being paying taxes on it).
During this time, I’ve learned that golf courses are complex business organisms that live, breathe, eat and require constant nurturing and care, just like a normal person negotiating the wear and tear of modern life. Preserving the health of your greens obviously adds value to a course; replacing them costs a small fortune, after all. But how a course is maintained also affects the number of rounds that can be achieved, or the number of members a club might attract/keep. If rounds or membership decline, that hurts the overall value of a golf property.
Many golfers rate the course conditions (particularly the greens) as the primary determinant of the quality, just like passengers typically (but not always) evaluate an airline flight based on the smoothness of the landing. When things are going smoothly and a course conditioning is well received, players may acknowledge or even thank someone at the course for high quality playing conditions. Normally, however, such situations are simply received with limited or no acknowledgement.
Conversely, when greens are slow, the fairways are wet, the roughs spotty or the bunkers inconsistent, the superintendent may experience a barrage of negative feedback, sometimes enough to result in dismissal. At private clubs, where members often take pride in displaying superior conditions to their guests, this creates additional pressure on the superintendent to perform, often from members unfamiliar with the impacts of weather, play, aging equipment, limited staffing and any number of additional challenges.
So, we can see that maintenance not only impacts the property value, but also a property’s revenue stream, i.e. rounds played and memberships renewed.
Following is a list of five ways a superintendent can better add value to his/her club and maintain/enhance revenue streams:
By this I mean consistently good playing conditions. While not always possible due to weather, the club that develops a reputation for consistency will be the club everyone wants to join or play. It becomes part of the club brand. This sounds obvious, but there’s considerable nuance to it. For example, I know of one southeastern resort course that developed a reputation for great conditions around a big event it held every year, but marginal conditions the rest of the year. Day-to-day players felt ripped off and rounds declined.
Even at daily fee courses, if players know when certain procedures are expected to take place (scheduled aerification, top-dressing, etc.), they appreciate being informed. Now, supers can’t meet and greet every player on the first tee, every day. Use social media and your club website to better communicate these things to golfers. With that knowledge (and the understanding this info is routinely shared with golfers), golfers won’t feel taken advantage of when they show up the day after the greens are punched. Don’t have a course maintenance blog? Start one.
When a course is well conditioned, especially at private clubs, members take tremendous pride in themselves — for being associated with such a club. They are proud to bring guests and brag about the green speed. They talk up the club and use it more frequently. Pride in club can and should happen on its own, but don’t be afraid to foster it — let golfers know your greens are the most poa-free in the region. Let them know how you made that happen. See communication above.
If the superintendent truly cares about his product, it will show and the course will be more in demand. If you try to fool players, they will discover that and become disenchanted. I know of a club that used to post artificially inflated green-speed readings and “got caught”. Not a good situation. That club was sold last year to a real estate developer… Conversely, I know of another club whose superintendent aspires to give his members ideal playing conditions and green speeds two weeks earlier in the spring and two weeks longer in the fall. It’s a lot of work, but it pays off economically with more member use of the club. It also adds to member pride. What, the members don’t realize they’re getting an extra month from their course relative to others in town? Tell them!
One thing I don’t see enough of is a written maintenance plan. This sort of document should be developed cooperatively by the superintendent, management and (if applicable) club leadership. Not only does it spell out, in writing, expectations for course conditions, it serves as a “go-to” common-ground document when disputes or misunderstandings arise. The plan should be approved by all concerned and available for all to see. In the sometimes-combative world of club politics, it can give a superintendent ammunition regarding the execution of his assigned duties. I’ve seen and heard of many clubs where a superintendent was dismissed when he was doing what the club asked him to do, sometimes against his own better judgment. Better to establish and manage expectations by formulating them en masse, and writing them down.
Employing some or all of the practices above will enhance the long-term quality and desirability of the club and thus its market value. The superintendent is in a critical position to make these things happen, of course, and following these principles can foster his/her professional growth as well.
About the author
Laurence A. Hirsh, CRE, MAI, SGA, FRICS is the president of Golf Property Analysts, a leading golf property appraisal consulting and brokerage firm based in Philadelphia (www.golfprop.com). He blogs at blog.golfprop.com.