Closing the Great Divide

By | April 25th, 2018

Joe Barks, Editor, Club & Resort Business

More and more public courses and facilities seem to be realizing they need to be more club- and resort-like to attract new business.

Public clubs and golf courses, especially those operated by municipalities, have always been thought to be arm’s-length competitors, at best, to most private clubs or resort properties, with patronage that by and large isn’t interested in gaining access to a full complement of amenities through club memberships. (Usually, the “membership” appeal for these facilities is limited to bundled golf-round discounts.)

We still choose to include news about these types of properties in our industry coverage, though, when it appears that they are pursuing ideas and initiatives that have application and relevance for private-club operations as well.

And while there are still plenty of municipal clubs and courses that are on the endangered list, and plenty of municipalities that are looking to have them developed or turned into parks or just to somehow get them off their hands (and the city’s budget), I’ve also been noticing more reports about how some of these properties seem to be realizing that they need to be more club- or resort-like, so they can attract new business.

Here are some examples that might seem to warrant everyone’s attention:

• The Wilmington (N.C.) Municipal Golf Course reported that it had a record February, not only thanks to warm temperatures, but also because a course at a residential community in the area, Echo Farms, had closed.

While Wilmington Municipal’s Manager, David Donovan, said “no one in the golfing community ever likes to see a course close,” he also saw an opportunity to attract anyone who was displaced from Echo Farms by providing a similar environment.

“[We’re] a public course, but it’s a place where you can feel at home and get with your own type of groups,” Donovan said. “You can feel like it is a club in that respect.”

• The South Shore Country Club, owned by the town of Hingham, Mass., finally decided to do something about its crumbling 66-year-old, above-ground pool. And that “something” involves much more that just replacing the old pool with three new ones (an indoor, six-lane lap pool, an indoor heated pool and an outdoor family pool/splash pad). The new plan also includes an athletic center, 5,400-sq. ft. bathhouse, locker rooms and a water slide.

“The pool project fits a lot of demographics in the town,” said the club’s Director of Operations. “One of the things we try to do with the club is make it more for all the residents of the community, not just the few who play golf.”

Dairy Creek Golf Course, a county-owned facility in San Luis Obispo, Calif., that has been cited as a golf-industry innovator for some of its environmental initiatives, is now packing it in for half of its golf course, because of an ongoing drought situation. But guess what Dairy Creek plans to do with the space that will be opened up by closing nine holes? Build a “Topgolf”-like facility, where people can “come out here to our restaurant, go in and have a drink and get some food, and come out and have table service while they’re hitting range balls,” according to Superintendent Josh Heptig. Plans are also in the works to add a zipline course, mini-golf, go-kart and BMX tracks, and camping cabins. “We just want it to be a really fun place,” Heptig said.

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