Stonebridge Meadows GC AT A GLANCE
• Year Established: 1997
It wasn’t the epic battle that caused December 7th to become known as “the day that will live in infamy.” But exactly 79 years before Pearl Harbor, another fierce fight was waged on American soil—the Battle of Prairie Grove, Ark., during which both the Union and Confederate armies suffered heavy casualties. Many of the wounded were taken 10 miles east to a hospital that had been set up on a farm on the outskirts of Fayetteville, where the healing process was helped by the serenity to be found in the Northwest Arkansas hills.
Once peacetime came, the same land was part of a wagon trail for pioneers making their way west. Then in the 20th century, as the site of a horse farm, it once again made its mark on history—this time as the training ground for the first $1 million thoroughbred, Nodouble.
Today, an archway of trees that formed part of the wagon trail can still be found on the land, as can the remnants of the training oval where Nodouble was put through his paces. It probably wouldn’t be too hard to dig up artifacts from the property’s Civil War history, either, because much of the property has remained remarkably undisturbed through the years.
|Associating with Billy Casper Golf and being part of the Arkansas Natural State Golf Trail has helped Stonebridge Meadows attract more golfers to its little part of paradise.|
But perhaps the most notable historic contribution may come from the daily-fee golf course, built from some of the land 10 years ago.
In a small restored farmhouse that now serves as the course clubhouse, Bill Meadows, the namesake owner of Stonebridge Meadows Golf Club, and his core management team—General Manager Mark Brouwer, Golf Professional Cory Willett, and Superintendent Lee McBurnett—literally work elbow to elbow. And often someone from Billy Casper Golf (BCG), the golf management firm that has helped to direct Stonebridge Meadows since 2003, drops in to join the crowd.
But believe it or not, with so many working in such cozy quarters, the club has yet to erupt in golf management civil war.
|Left alone to do their thing (left to right): Golf Pro Cory Willett, Superintendent Lee McBurnett and GM Mark Brouwer (whose steady flow of ideas earned him Billy Casper Golf’s General Manager of the Year Award).|
I’ve heard all the horror stories ever since I was in turf school, and at other places I worked before coming here,” says McBurnett. “I heard how tough it’s supposed to be to have an owner on site looking at what you’re doing or spending; I heard how management companies just add layers and make you do things a certain way; and most of all, I heard how GMs and golf pros and superintendents are supposed to never get along, because they’re always screaming about how the others make it impossible for them to do their jobs.
“But I have to tell you,” McBurnett continues, “This is a place where the owner is very hands-on, we’re part of one of the biggest management companies in the business, and I work about as closely with the GM and pro as you can. And in the two years I’ve been here, I really haven’t seen how any of those [horror stories] apply.”
What has been apparent is how the collective approach of the Stonebridge Meadows management group has combined to generate this steady stream of accomplishments:
•Significant year-to-year growth in average revenues per round, according to Brouwer, with a $3-per-round boost in 2004-05 followed by another $4 increase in 2005-06.
•A record number (110) of tournaments, outings and events this past season—“nearly double the number of [annual] outing rounds when [BCG] was brought in,” Brouwer says.
•Double-digit pro shop sales increases for the past two years.
•Recognition as one of only two public courses on Golf Digest’s best-of-state Top 10, and selection as a charter member of the courses that now make up the Arkansas Natural State Golf Trail.
•Recognition within the BCG network of 60-plus properties for Brouwer, named the management firm’s General Manager of the Year in 2005; and McBurnett, cited for having the “Most Improved Course” after his first year on the job.
Again reflecting the one-big-happy-family aspect of how this all has been achieved, it’s not hard to get any part of the management triangle to give credit to the other sides’ contributions.
For example, McBurnett emphasizes the value of having an on-site, hands-on owner, much more than any perceived downside.
|McBurnett earned “Most Improved Course” honors for Billy Casper properties in 2005.|
“Yes, I can get critiqued on a daily basis, but I also have timely access, to help get priorities established and decisions made,” he says. “Last year, for example, when a sprayer went down as we were putting down pre-emergent, we were able to talk right away to Mr. Meadows and get a new one pretty quickly. A large part of that comes from what he knows about my part of the operation—I’ve had him ride on a fairway mower with me, to see exactly what we’re dealing with.
“He leaves me alone and lets me do my job,” says McBurnett. “As long as I stay within the budget constraints that have been set, he doesn’t bother me.”
The members of the Stonebridge Meadows management trio also give their owner credit for calling in Billy Casper Golf when he did. After setting out in 1997 to pursue his vision of filling the void for high-quality daily-fee golf in Northern Arkansas, Bill Meadows and the original management team did quite well on their own; the first three years of operation were “record-breaking,” Brouwer says.
|Willett has added finance and investment education to the golf professi
onalism in his bloodlines.
Thing weren’t so idyllic, though, when the post-9/11 slump was made worse after a month under ice led to an untimely winter kill that took out about 70 percent of the course in 2001 (counting lost revenues, it added up to about a $400,000 hit, Bill Meadows says). And with Meadows wanting to focus more on the next phases of real estate development around the course, he felt the time was right to bring in the proven expertise of a firm like BCG.
Putting Them on the Map
The turnaround was almost immediate, and the improvement from that point has been steady, Meadows says. In addition to purchasing economies and management know-how, Stonebridge Meadows has benefitted most, its on-site team feels, from BCG’s ability to help with the development and use of an e-mail marketing database, and from the national exposure that the affiliation provides.
“Let’s face it, this is not the easiest place to find,” says Willett, a golf pro’s son who worked part-time at Stonebridge before returning this year, after studying finance and investment at the University of Arkansas, to become its new head professional.
But through steady promotion of the club on the BCG website, there has been a noticeable increase in golfers who now go out of their way to Fayetteville, Willett reports.
And whenever someone new presents themselves at Stonebridge Meadows, either through an inquiry or in person, the team makes sure to capture their e-mail address and add it to a database that now holds some 6,500 entries. What goes in then usually goes right back out, through targeted promotions designed to help fill tee-time gaps and keep the course well-populated.
“[The three of us] are always looking at the tee sheets and saying things like, ‘Tuesdays are slow…what we can do to fill them up?’ ” says Brouwer, whose 15-year career included successful turnaround efforts at a variety of courses, public and private, before he came to Stonebridge Meadows. “Once we come up with an idea, the database has proved to be a great way to get the word out.
“For example, we’ve targeted some big retirement communities within an hour’s drive, to promote special foursome deals. The returns have been great; vans pull up here now with three or four groups from the same place. When gas is $3 a gallon, that really makes a difference, to get people out who just can’t afford to do so on their own.”
Smoothing the Way
With all of the current on-site managers at Stonebridge Meadows having arrived at the club within the past two years, Tom Barrett, BCG’s?Regional Manager for the course, says the most compelling evidence of how well they work together—and why two of them earned recognition from the management firm—is the “smooth transition” that occurred after well-respected members of the club’s original team, GM and PGA?Pro Bill Agler, and Superintendent John Straycheck, left to pursue new opportunities.
“It takes special individuals to be able to come in and gain respect in that kind of situation, where you might not have instant credibility,” Barrett notes. “[Mark and Lee] both did a good job of not hitting any bumps in the road, and now with Cory in place, they’re running full-out again. They’re really flourishing now as a good, self-sufficient team that makes very good use of [the BCG] resources and support system, to get out in front and be proactive about creating new programs and promotions.”
And that should also help to ensure a lasting peace in their quiet little part of the golf world.
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