A grow-the-game initiative that delivers

A grow-the-game initiative that delivers

Guest columnist Todd Quitno shares a practical plan to design/fund/build a short course or practice area at your facility that will generate cash flow and attract new golfers. Is it too good to be true?

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April 28, 2014
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So, what are your plans, exactly, for that little parcel of under-utilized land you’ve got tucked away somewhere on your property. Have you reached out to Links Across America yet, to design/fund/build that short course and/or practice area that will generate cash flow and provide that place to create new golfers (who will steer cash flow to your big course 5 to 10 years from now)?

Well, the odds are you haven't yet reached out to Leon McNair and the team at Links Across America (LAA). And that’s okay, because in sharing with you the story of our latest LAA project --  the Short Course and Learning Center at Peninsula State Park Golf Course in Ephraim, Wisconsin -- perhaps you’ll be inspired to think seriously about getting one startedPeninsula State Park GC Short Course No. 1, existing. there.

Did I mention this project (pricetag: just over $600,000 all told) was designed and built without any out-of-pocket costs to the State of Wisconsin itself, which owns the property? Do I have your attention now?

My colleague and boss, Bob Lohmann, has written about LAA before, but here’s the deal in quick, capsule form: The Links Across America initiative creates new and affordable short courses (from 3 to 9 holes) to provide golfing opportunities to young people, families and adult beginners of all ethnic backgrounds, in addition to individuals with disabilities or injuries. The Wadsworth Golf Charities Foundation (WGCF), philanthropic arm of Wadsworth Golf Construction, funds development of these projects — in addition to enlisting various golf industry vendors to donate services like course design and construction.

Our firm, Lohmann Golf Designs, has now participated in the construction of three of these projects (with half a dozen more in planning), the first one being The Links Learning Center at Randall Oaks that opened in Dundee Township, Illinois back in 2010. LGD was the course designer and The Bruce Co. the course builder. Following the LAA model, we both donated large portions of our services to the project’s realization.

The project at Peninsula State Park GC is noteworthy because 1) it’s scheduled to open this spring; and 2) the “parent” course is state-owned, so the folks who manage the golf course had to jump through way more hoops than you probably would in order to make it happen.

Peninsula State Park GC Short Course No. 1, proposed“We did have a higher level of hurdle to clear, because

we’re a state park golf course. But really, there was no hassle at all,” said Jason Daubner, general manager at Peninsula State Park GC. “The big thing was, because we’re a state park facility, we wanted to make sure the public was okay with what we’re doing. We want to maintain that good neighbor relationship, letting people come and comment on our plans, keeping the state DNR [Department of Natural Resources] in the loop, etc.

“But as far as dealing with Links Across America and our other donors, that was hassle free. In fact, the $600,000 was basically gifted to the state, their board of control, and the DNR board. They were all very happy with what we’re doing, very gracious and cooperative. We’re excited to grow the game and provide another activity here for local residents and people staying in the park.”

What Jason is too polite to say is this: If we can do it, so can other municipal or otherwise non-profit entities.

Peninsula State Park GC is a really neat, older golf course that sits just off Route 42, the feeder highway to the entire Door Peninsula in northern Wisconsin. Part of the back nine overlooks Eagle Harbor and the rest of the course plays through indigenous forest areas and along the natural bluffs. LGD was invited up there a few years back to discuss renovation of a par-3 hole on the back side — that’s when Jason and superintendent Matt Meacham alerted us to the triangular, 6-acre property that sat across Route 42 from the course. It was once home to a golf hole, as part of the original routing. But when we showed up, it was “just sitting there”.

We could see it would be perfect for an LAA-style short course, so we suggested they get in touch with Leon McNair.

“Turns out one of my rangers is an old college fraternity buddy of Leon’s. He knows just how beautiful our park is,” Daubner recalls. “Leon came right up and got the ball rolling. “

That’s where we got back involved. LGD created a 6-hole, par-3 routing with holes ranging from 65 to 110 yards. We tried to have fun with it, using famous holes as loose templates: there’s an homage to the 12th at Augusta National (without the creek), there’s a Redan, a Short. The 5th plays over a half-blinding mound to a punchbowl green. We tried to match the bunker styles to those on the original 18 across the street, but it was most important to remember the novice player. Accordingly, we called for planting the whole thing in bluegrass, with native grasses in outlying areas to provide accenting and separation. There are a few pods, but most tees are just extensions of the fairway so you can “pick your spot” to tee from. We deployed generous green collars for ease of play and maintenance.

This was the plan Jason and Matt would ultimately share with the state and all the local authorities.

“We did a presentation to the state, which is the land owner,” Daubner says, noting that the state leases this property to his outfit, Peninsula Golf Associates, Inc., a private, non-profit entity, which makes them eligible for LAA grants. “We had an open house where the course design plan was offered along with preliminary costs. We presented to the local village board. All this was done before we received final approval.”

It took about a year to get all this done and approved by the state. It was put out to bid, according to Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws, and opened to qualified golf course builders, including LAA company partners.  As it happens, Wadsworth’s construction firm, which operates separately from the Foundation but still contributes as a partner, provided the low bid. Ground was broken last summer, finished by September and the facility should open this spring, depending on the weather. This is northern Wisconsin, after all.

Daubner says Peninsula State Park GC handles between 25,000 and 30,000 rounds per year. In a full year (meaning 2015 and beyond), he estimates the new Short Course and Learning Center will accommodate 8,000 rounds.

“The price of those rounds has not been determined,” Daubner says. “We have suggestions from Links Across America but the state will have the final say. Under $10 is the goal. We want to keep it affordable. The key is growing the number of young golfers around here, getting them hooked on the game. Our goal is to open it up to mom, dad and their 4 year old. We’re going to be affiliated with the Green Bay Chapter of The First Tee. The plan is to hire a full time instructor to work there, and the big course. Use it as a feeder.”

We’ve all been witness to so many “grow the game” initiatives over the years. Nearly all of them had their hearts in the right place, and some of them were actually practical enough to get the job done. We’ve now worked up close on three LAA projects. Believe me when I say that Links Across America delivers both in terms of sentiment and results.

So, what are you waiting for?

About the author

Todd A. Quitno is a Senior Project Architect for Lohmann Golf Designs, Inc. with 17-plus years of experience in the golf design industry.  Todd is an Associate Member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (Class of 2010) and has been invited on numerous occasions as a seminar speaker and writer on a variety of golf design and construction issues.