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Sunday, 26 May 2013 22:00

ON THE UPSWING: Michigan’s golf industry bullish on prospects for 2013

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Michigan’s golf courses recovered better than their national peers, according to data from the PGA of America. Courses including Scott Lake Country Club in Comstock Park, shown here, expect the improvement to continue into this year. Michigan’s golf courses recovered better than their national peers, according to data from the PGA of America. Courses including Scott Lake Country Club in Comstock Park, shown here, expect the improvement to continue into this year. COURTESY PHOTO

Thanks to a combination of good weather, an improving economy and better promotion, the Michigan golf industry is well down the path of recovery and looks to tee off another strong season this year.

The industry’s recovery is especially being felt in Michigan, where the number of rounds played last year increased nearly 11 percent compared to 2011, according to data compiled by the PGA of America. Michigan courses’ performance outstripped their national peers, which posted a 6-percent increase in rounds played last year.

That’s got industry sources bullish for this year’s prospects, too.

“The golf business in Michigan will get better as the general economy gets better,” said Jeff Hoag, owner of Scott Lake Country Club in Comstock Park and president of the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association.

The PGA of America, in conjunction with the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA), tracks on a monthly basis the number of rounds and revenue for facilities across the country via an online dashboard called PerformanceTrak.

The service compiles information shared by PGA golf course professionals and members of the NGCOA and allows users to benchmark their performance to other courses in the region.

“Michigan really did better on average than the U.S. did,” said Paul Metzler, senior director of marketing and industry relations with PGA of America. “Last year, we came off a big year and that’s largely attributed to weather.”

Within the golf course sector, there are a number of different styles of courses, and all have had different economic results in recent years, Metzler said. Among private facilities, the long-standing, high-end country clubs have fared better than mid-level clubs, he said.

In Grand Rapids, for example, Centennial Country Club in Cascade Township closed in November 2012.

During the hard times, Metzler said many country clubs had to get creative and start being more appealing to families, young people and social members to get their membership numbers up.

Other courses, like Grand Rapids Township’s Thousand Oaks Golf Club, have employed a public-private model that offers memberships but also stays open to the public.

The Highlands, a Grand Rapids course designed by famed architect Donald Ross, switched to a public-private model in the 2007 season.

“We call (the course) public, but there are still plenty of members,” said Steve Scheurmann, owner and general manager at The Highlands.

Scheurmann cited a decline in membership and difficulty in attracting younger members as the main reasons for the change in business model. In the six years since changing, Scheurmann said there’s “no question” that the switch was the right decision. Aside from hosting rounds of golf, Scheurmann said the facility’s food and beverage sales are also up, as are the number of banquets and outings scheduled there.

Scheurmann said the idea for the switch to a public-private model came to him when he recalled working in the late 1970s in North Carolina, which had a number of clubs with similar models.

“I remembered how well (the public-private) model worked,” Scheurmann said. “I think you’ll see more of that.”

This month, Silver Lake Country Club in Rockford announced it was adopting the public-private model as well.

“The resort courses, as we went into the recession, were the first ones that took a beating,” Metzler said. “In 2011, they basically bottomed out on their decline and started making a slight turn up. That turn continued into 2012.”

The performance of public golf courses has been a mixed bag, Metzler said. Lower-end and municipal golf courses have been hardest hit, while daily fee courses have been fairly successful, he said.

“Generally, the courses that catered to more of a premium greens fee, they had some impact but not as significant as the very affordable (courses),” Metzler said.

This holds true for Scott Lake Country Club, Hoag said. With rates that top out at just more than $40 for 18 holes on the weekends with a cart, Scott Lake has weathered the recession with relative ease, he said.

In 1998, Hoag bought land adjacent to the original 18-hole course and expanded to 27, something he believes has been of great benefit to his business.

“Going to 27 holes has allowed for maximum flexibility. We’re doing more leagues, outings and events. We’ve tried to build our business in many ways while watching costs,” Hoag said of how he has kept Scott Lake competitive in a tough market.

The course has also invested in some new maintenance equipment that allows for greater efficiency. Scott Lake has also updated its cart fleet a few times in the last several years. Hoag also pointed to the Pure Michigan campaign as being beneficial, as a number of the ads have trumpeted Michigan’s golf industry.

“West Michigan has been blessed with a vibrant economy,” Hoag said. “Right now, we’re ahead of the east side (of the state).”

Industry-wide, Metzler said that one of PGA of America’s major initiatives is trying to cast off the perception of golf as an expensive sport for participants.

“There’s a general misconception of the prices of golf,” Metzler said. “When people look at what the price of a round is, I think they look at the cost of a high-end country club or a high-end destination resort and say, ‘Wow, it’s several hundred dollars to play those courses,’ or it’s several thousand dollars to become a member of that club.”

But if one divides the revenue a course makes with the rounds played, the average greens fee in the state of Michigan is only about $25, he said.

Read 11850 times Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 12:22

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