“The most important part of successful golf course management is good communication with customers,” says Bob Cupp, a course superintendent in Michigan who blogs at Get Golf Course Information. “I believe that’s the key to success.”
Cupp is a leading proponent of “creative communications,” which he defines as “the art and science of telling your customers what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.” Any course can get better communication if it’s willing to do it. But creativity takes courage. “The first step is admitting you have a problem,” Cupp writes. “You might be insecure about your product or service. You might be afraid of letting people down.”
The other side of the coin is the inability to communicate clearly and honestly. In 1999, for example, the owner of one golf course sought advice on his website from a Florida woman who had recently taken up golf. The woman wrote: My husband and I just bought our first home! I am so excited! We are both over 50 now and we have never had a house with a yard before! So he yearns for his own yard when we go there–he is a city boy who grew up in Minnesota with no lawns. He told me today that he wants me to get
If you want to improve the course, you have to find out about golf course management.
Golf course management is a field in its own right, with its own journals and conferences. The best practitioners are recognized by the professional organization that accredits course managers.
If you’re going to build a golf course, you should hire an expert to design it. But there are so many experts, who is to know which one to hire?
The answer is that the experts have nothing to do with each other. If you’re building a house, you don’t talk to an architect about stonework; you talk to someone who knows how to use a hammer. If you’re building a bridge, you don’t call up an engineer about steel or cables; you talk to someone who knows how to weld.
In the same way, if you’re trying to build a golf course, the best expert is not necessarily the expert in golf course architecture. The best expert is the one who knows how to make a golf course.
Finding out whether someone knows how to make a golf course can involve reading articles and books and consulting experts. It can also involve taking your own measurements and making your own observations and drawing your own conclusions. Professional architects usually want their clients’ money up front, so they will not be inclined to listen closely if it seems like you might be sizing them up for fraud.* And professionals in other fields will not listen closely either, unless they know that you really do know something after all.**
A good way
A major golf course is a big, expensive property that gets used by millions of people every year. There is a very long lead time before you can start thinking about it: if you’re designing the course now, you’re probably 65 years too late; if you’re designing it in 20 years, you’re probably 50 years too late. It takes 10 years or so to build it. Then it takes another 4-5 years for the turnover rate to get back to where it was when the course opened. And then 3-4 years for the average length of play (LOP) to rise back up where it was when the course opened.
This means that any changes you make will take 15-25 years to fully produce. So exactly what can be done? Well, there are a few things:
If you want to be a professional golfer, the way to do it is obvious: get better at golf. But if you want to be a golf course owner, the path is not so obvious.
The standard route for a golf course owner is to buy and build from scratch, rather than buying an existing course. That’s what Donald Ross did when he founded the private course in Florida where the US Open is held today, and it’s what many of today’s courses are modeled on. The main things hard-core golfers care about are length of course and access. Both of these can be achieved with a traditional design; it’s just a matter of knowing how to decide which one will give you your best shot at selling more tickets.
But if you do something that looks like an old-school layout, people will assume you’re doing it wrong. They look at Donald Ross’ original Cypress Point and think “That doesn’t work. I bet he never got any play.” And they’re right; although Ross opened his first nine holes in 1931, he didn’t open more holes until 1936, and only four more holes until 1941. By that point his design was 30 years old, but his customers were still happy with it.
Golf courses are built to hit a ball into a hole. All the architecture and landscaping, plus all the rules about how you play, are designed to make sure that happens. But if you’re lucky, or good enough, or just happen to be in the right place at the right time, you can hit your ball into a different part of the course and have a different effect: let it roll and bounce back into your own hole.
In this post I’m going to explain how this works.
Golf courses have to make money. They have to pay the owner’s mortgage; they need maintenance; they need to buy new equipment every 6 months or so; they need to hire and pay staff; they need to build new facilities and put them in some kind of shape that people find attractive, and so on. And although these courses are expensive to build, you can’t take your money out and buy a house with it.
On top of that, golf courses also have certain obligations. One of them is to provide an entertaining attraction for tourists, who pay a lot of money to come see the course and play if they can get a tee time. You don’t want people just idly wandering around your course, so you have to make sure there are enough interesting things going on (like the hole itself) that people will want to hang around for long enough to play. You also have a duty to keep things interesting during the day, when there aren’t any tourists around but the same people are still trying to play golf, or having their kids play. This is why golf courses give away balls and shoes and have little minigolf areas all over the place.
After all this expense and effort, how do you make money? There are three main ways