Biggest Owners Hoping to Get Bigger
MONTEREY, CALIF. (June 26, 2007) – The nation’s largest golf course ownership groups are in deal-making moods with their sights set on getting even bigger in the year to come. They also see their own employees as the key to attracting golfers to their courses, and feel it’s mostly the responsibility of local facilities to grow the game.
Those were among the findings of a survey of top executive officers attending the 2007 Multi-Course Owners Leadership Retreat hosted by the National Golf Course Owners Association here last week. The companies represented at the 12th annual conference own or operate seven or more courses in the U.S. and worldwide and are considered some of the golf industry’s most influential leaders.
The largest number of attendees (44 percent) said they planned to increase their golf course holdings in the next 12 months through acquisition. That number was up from 29 percent a year ago. Seventeen percent said they planned to sell courses in the next year, and 25 percent said their plans included acquisition and disposition.
A highly engaging and well-trained staff is the most effective tool in motivating golfers to choose one facility over another, according to 43 percent of the respondents. A “value-added” experience, which might include a free golf car rental, range balls or a restaurant credit, was the top choice of 25 percent of the owners and operators, while only 10 percent said discounting green fees is the best way to attract customers.
When it comes to adding new golfers and increasing participation rates among existing golfers, most (40 percent) think that’s the shared responsibility of golf courses at the local level with support from national governing bodies such as the PGA of America, the USGA or the PGA Tour. Only two percent said growing the game was mostly the responsibility of the national governing bodies with little help from local facilities.
The owners/operators said they intend to increase marketing to women (73 percent) more than any other group in the next year.
Owners may be planning on increasing the size of their portfolios, but it’s not a “growth-for-growth-sake” mentality driving the trend, said Jim Hinckley, CEO of Century Golf Partners and Arnold Palmer Golf Management. “Operators are different today. They are much smarter and more strategic. They’re more focused on geographic clusters, product line and on what is consistent with their business model.
"Lenders are smarter, too," Hinckley added. “They’re looking for smart operators who have a strong strategic plan. That’s helped bring a lot more sanity back to the market.”