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Golf Course Renovations Continue to Rise

6 Aug, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Attracting Tourism, Efforts to be More Eco-Friendly, Driving the Market

The upswing in golf course renovations across the United States has continued as the calendar turns to the 'back nine' of 2015.

According to the American Society of Golf Course Architects, ASGCA members have stated they are seeing an increase in proposed and ongoing renovation projects at private clubs and public facilities alike.

Course owners and managers who were previously hesitant about taking on small- or large-scale projects have been more likely to move forward in recent months, as interest rates remain near record lows, and they see the long-term benefits of maintaining sustainable, playable facilities for golfers.

"Our members are very busy with renovations right now,” ASGCA President Steve Smyers said. “Clubs are taking advantage of new technology and the knowledge ASGCA members bring to address areas like turfgrass removal, forward tees, bunker removal and smart water usage, leading to greater efficiency all over the course.”

There has been no doubt the drought in California has affected the golf industry, but it’s far from the only way courses have changed and become more eco-friendly. Rand Jerris, USGA’s senior managing director for public services, has noted that overall, courses tend to be leaning toward landscaping changes that lead to a different look and feel.

“Overall, there are concerns about making golf courses more sustainable and more environmentally responsible,” Jerris told Sports Destination Management. “We are looking at the nutrients we apply to the course, the fungicides, the herbicides and more. There have been some really positive studies, some even pertaining to the use of golf courses as habitats for endangered species. In addition, one of the nice trends we’re seeing is golf courses removing 20 to 30 percent of their total acreage in the rough, and replacing a lot of turf with materials like pine straw and native plants. That way, golf course managers are spending less to mow and maintain the course.”

The biggest part, Jerris noted, was changing the mindset of golfers, who had a predisposed view of what a course was supposed to look like and how it was supposed to play. Getting past that, however, often meant users were pleasantly surprised about the playability of a facility.

Golf courses that have completed renovations in recent years are seeing a strong return on investment, according to some experts. And that, for many destinations, is driving the market – particularly markets that want to capitalize on sports tourism.

According to the Big Bend Sentinel, the Presidio County (Texas) Commissioners’ Court showed interest in the potential renovations to the Marfa Municipal Golf Course, voting in May to sign a letter of intent with Pro Tour Events to further the process about potential renovations that would include expanding the current nine-hole course into an 18-hole golf course, in addition to a “state-of-the-art” practice facility, clubhouse, and 40-room lodge on the county-owned course property.

This, it was noted by Larry Lunsford of Pro Tour Events, would make the course a more enticing option.

“This is going to be a destination golf course. This isn’t necessarily going to be built for the local members, although the local members will be able to take full advantage at their current rate. This is being built as a destination project, which will bring in more tourists. It’ll bring in corporate events,” said Lunsford. (Lunsford also noted his organization would supply a PGA Tour pro to coach the local high school’s golf team, which currently lacks instruction.)

Presidio County is by no means a gamble, nor would any success be a rarity. The National Golf Foundation retained Sirius Golf Advisors for a study reported on in the summer issue of By Design magazine. The study detailed the positive economic impact of renovations at Dallas-area public courses. Eight projects were “major” renovations, with $5 million spent per course on renovations. For these courses, annual revenue increased from an average of $939,000 before renovation to $1.6 million in the first year of reopening.

At four courses with “minor” renovations – $445,000 spent per course – average annual revenue increased from $1.1 million to $1.5 million.

The ASGCA website has posted a number of articles citing ongoing or recently completed renovation work by ASGCA members across North America, including:

  • New putting surfaces and grass-faced bunkers by Bill Bergin, ASGCA, for Oaks Country Club, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

  • A redesigned practice putting green and short-game facility by John Harvey, ASGCA, for Ramsey Golf & Country Club, Ramsey, New Jersey.

  • Improvements to greens and bunkers by Todd Eckenrode, ASGCA, at Brentwood Country Club, Los Angeles.

Information on golf course Master Planning and Remodeling is available online from ASGCA by visiting this link.

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