Entrepreneural approach puts golf on the upswing


By Dave Yochum. Sharp golf course operators and country club owners are keeping their eye on the ball by paying attention to non-golf activities, sprucing up their banquet facilities and catering to a younger demographic.

Ryan Brickley, PGA director of golf at Rocky River Golf Club at Concord, said the municipally owned complex just completed a $100,000-plus renovation to the club house.

“The biggest thing is we’re trying to make the venue more attractive for outside parties and wedding receptions. One of the biggest trends is trying to make sure you are marketing the venue for revenue streams other than just golf,” said Brickley, who was a business major at Miami University, Ohio.

“Golf is not a growing sport at this point,” Brickley said, explaining that the Charlotte market remains overbuilt and the glory days of young Tiger Woods are over. The National Golf Foundation says about 650,000 men left the sport in 2013. But almost 260,000 women took up golf, which means there’s still a future—perhaps different from the one imagined 20 years ago—for an industry that is worth on the order of $70 billion a year and is responsible for 2 million jobs. Charitable golf events alone raise more than $3 billion a year.

“The great fact is that since 2010 we have roughly 500,000 more kids in the game. We’re trying to get more women into the game, we’re trying to bring more diversity into the game,” said PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua.

Indeed, the trend looks like a long drive champ locally.

Brian Bauer, chief operating officer of Statesville Country Club, says the club is looking at turning a wooded two- or three-acre section into a pocket camp for families who might want to stay overnight, fish in a pond and, of course, get in maybe nine rounds together.

“We’re definitely gearing more toward families and making it a one-stop shop with something for everyone in the family,” Bauer said. “In order to bring everyone together, there needs to be something for everyone.”

In today’s social-media driven world, where time is at a premium—and families come together for a tweet, appealing to moms, dads and the soccer—and baseball-playing kids is good business in the golf world.

Clubs are working harder to generate more revenue from different activities.

The lack of interest among millennials, and to a lesser extent gen-xers, is an obstacle that can be overcome, according to Scott Knox, general manager of Verdict Ridge Country Club.

The Denver-based, family-owned club just finished a major renovation, worth well into the six figures, that included dining facilities and the lobby. Phase II will cost considerably more; it will also focus on non-golf improvements.

“Looking back on 18 years of history…we started out with full focus on golf, we have an award-winning course, but with a lot of demands on people, their time….spending every Saturday and Sunday on soccer fields or baseball fields, we’re trying to find ways to encourage people to play nine holes, or hit a bucket of balls, things that don’t take a lot of time,” Knox said.

To appeal to a younger set, young golfers can play for free. Demographically speaking, gen-xers and millennials are also more inclined to try to stay fit, so fitness centers are de rigueur.

“Private clubs as a whole have started to broaden their reach,” Statesville CC’s Bauer said.

The club has recently finished a renovation which includes a fitness center that was carved out of two things that seem like they were from another century: A men’s card room and a ladies’ tea room.

Indeed, the newly renovated club house was built in the 1960s. In 2013 the club was purchased by Hickory entrepreneur Don Beaver, a man who knows his way around sports and family entertainment.

Clearly, there’s plenty of upside compared to the depths of the recession, and compared to when Tiger Woods’ reputation was going into the rough.

The owner of the Charlotte Knights and the Hickory Crawdads has spent no less than $2.5 million on renovations. Membership in 2013 had dwindled to 165; now there are 225.

Dues run $335 a month, with a $60 food minimum. “It’s a very affordable country club with all the amenities of a high-dollar club,” Bauer said.

Golf will always be used for business, Bauer said. “There’s no place where you can spend three or four hours…and get to know someone based on how they handle themselves on a golf course,” he said.


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