The public Duluth, Minn., golf courses signed a five-year agreement with Billy Casper Golf last summer, and a majority of those funds went toward improving 43 rocky bunkers at Enger Park. Other improvements included new amenities for the driving ranges, a new computer system and phones, new golf carts, and updates to both F&B operations.
Enger Park Golf Course in Duluth, Minn., is hoping bunker improvements will entice golfers, the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune reported.
General Manager Gary Nelson admits new bunkers may not sound like a big deal to some, but says he’s had golfers demand new clubs due to the rock-strewn traps, the News Tribune reported.
“You’re out there just kind of shaking your head. It takes the focus off your game and anything else that you are enjoying out there because of one big disappointment,” Nelson said. “The bunkers may not seem like a real big thing, but in the grand scheme of things, not having a bunch of rocks in your bunkers makes a big difference. We fixed the worst things out here on the golf course and made it one of our best things.”
Replaced by what Nelson called “a superintendent’s dream,” the 43 bunkers that were renovated last year are one of the many improvements at Enger and Lester Park courses made by Billy Casper Golf, which is entering its second year managing the city of Duluth’s two public golf courses, the News Tribune reported.
As part of a five-year agreement that began last summer, Billy Casper Golf agreed to invest $250,000—which has to be paid back by the city at $50,000 per year—toward capital improvements at the two courses. Most of the $250,000 that was spent last year went toward a long-term fix of the bunkers. Other improvements included a new ball dispenser and buckets for the driving ranges, a new computer system and phones, plus new golf carts for both courses that include USB ports to charge phones and such, the News Tribune reported.
The starter shack at Enger Park also is being repurposed as the Skyline Cafe. It will feature a drive-up window for golfers to purchase beverage or food. The east side of Enger’s clubhouse also is being paved. The golf cart staging area will move, allowing tables, chairs and umbrellas to be set up between the cafe and pavilion, the News Tribune reported.
At Lester Park, work also was done with the kitchens inside the clubhouse, which had its sagging floor fixed by the city over the winter, the News Tribune reported.
Of all the changes, Nelson still expects the clean bunkers at Enger to be the most welcomed change, the News Tribune reported.
“A lot of what we’re doing this year is piggybacking on what was accomplished last year,” Nelson said. “Last year we made a lot of improvements to the facilities, a lot of repairs, a lot of investments throughout the year to get the operating platform to be where it needed to be (in order) to be successful for years to come.
“We’ll be able to start out the year with fresh bunkers and fresh attitudes about course conditions and put our focus on things on the golf course that can be improved and an enhanced golfer experience.”
Part of improving and enhancing the golfer experience this year includes dropping the course rates for 18 holes, as well as the cost of the courses’ loyalty program, the News Tribune reported.
Despite an increase in revenue by $196,483 and an increase in the rounds of golf played by 35%, Duluth Golf still lost a significant amount of money in 2015. “We figured out pretty quick that we had to invest a lot more dollars in the first year to get it where it needed to be,” Nelson said. “And even though we made a real drastic significant improvement on rounds and revenue, it still underachieved compared to our goals and our budget.”
According to a presentation given to the Duluth City Council in March, Billy Casper Golf missed its budgeted revenue by $180,567. As a result, Duluth Golf lost more money in 2015 ($180,370) than it did in 2013 ($88,842) and 2014 ($60,651) combined. Despite the financial results of Year 1, Duluth’s director of public administration, Jim Filby Williams, said the city is still confident it picked the right firm in Billy Casper Golf to stabilize Duluth courses’ finances, the News Tribune reported.
“We had unrealistic expectations about how quickly any firm could master this very complex and expansive Duluth golf program,” Filby Williams said. “It’s very clear they have a strong handle on Duluth golf now and are deeply engaged now with our golfers, and this year is going to be a big step forward.
“We laid the foundation to have the successful 2016 that we really need. The bunkers were completed very late in the season, too late to have much of an impact on the Duluth golf experience last year or on the bottom line, but just in time to make a great impact on 2016.”
About $125,000 of the 2015 losses can be attributed to the improvements made to the courses and behind the scenes, improvements Filby Williams said that went well beyond what Duluth had put into the courses in any year in the last decade. Filby Williams said the city discovered about $75,000 worth of failing or badly failing systems in need of repair. The remaining deficit was the $50,000 per year the city owes Billy Casper Golf for the initial $250,000 the firm spent, the News Tribune reported.
“Last year we had the expected learning curve with taking the reins just before the season began and learning about a course and its infrastructure and our golf community on the fly,” Filby Williams said. “With this year, with a full offseason of preparation and a full year to become closely familiar with Duluth golf, we’re confident they are poised to make substantial further progress.”
It wasn’t just the city that was caught off guard by what Filby Williams called “unpleasant surprises” but Billy Casper Golf officials as well. That’s why the firm wasn’t able to live up to its projections of breaking even in 2015, Nelson said. But this year, Nelson and his team are hoping to at least break even with an improved rate structure that encourages golfers to stay on the course longer and play 18 holes instead of just nine. By keeping golfers at the course longer, they are hoping to sell more food, drinks and merchandise, the News Tribune reported.
Everything clicks for a golf course when it can produce more 18-hole rounds, Nelson said.
“This year we think we’re going to be able to achieve the rounds and revenue we set forth and it’s going to be offset by not having to spend those investment dollars fixing the golf courses and facilities,” Nelson said. “It will be able to turn a profit in 2016.”