Facing the unfortunate reality of an unsustainable business model once the golf course lost 60 percent of its water for irrigation, Dairy Creek GC in San Luis Obispo, Calif. got creative—closing nine holes of the 18-hole layout and adding a Toptracer Range as part of a new “Swing Time” facility. Revenue is up, and rounds played appear to be heading toward levels not seen in years.
“The Road Back” video series from Club + Resort Business provides fresh insights into how club and resort properties have met the challenges posed by the pandemic and found new and innovative ways to boost business levels and return to full operation.
Prior to a pandemic-induced nationwide boost in golf rounds in 2020, clubs were struggling to fill their tee sheets. At the same time, off-course facilities like Topgolf were growing in popularity and attracting golfers and non-golfers alike.
Josh Heptig, Golf Superintendent for San Luis Obispo County (Calif.) Parks and Recreation, was one of many industry professionals who wondered how the two entities—Topgolf and traditional courses—could be married. The answer: A Toptracer Range, which the county added to its Dairy Creek course as part of a new “Swing Time” facility.
The county was motivated to find a new approach because the Dairy Creek course had been receiving its water from a local prison system. When the prison realigned itself to get back into 100% occupancy, it set 50 percent of the prisoners free, so the club lost 60 percent of its water, and operating an 18-hole golf course was no longer a sustainable business model.
“We turned off nine holes of golf; we’ve let them go fallow,” Heptig says. “We’ve made a relationship with the local university, Cal Poly, and they have developed, along with Tom Lehman, a Learning Center at our properties. They took three of our old holes and turned them into a short-game area, putting area, and a full-shot area. Then we also implemented the Toptracer facility on top of that.
“We’ve got plans for mini-golf and go-karts and zip lines as well, and are looking at possibly having camping cabins in the future, too,” Heptig says. “Golf is fun enough by itself, but we’re trying to attract the other 90% of the population.”
The Swing Time facility, which opened in October 2020, has been booked out every single night it’s been open, Heptig reports, and the seven-day advance rental has led to some lost sleep for golfers looking to enjoy the facility.
“If you don’t get your reservation by Monday morning for the weekend you’re not getting in— so we’ve got people getting up at midnight or 1 in the morning just to book their Toptracer Range rentals,” he says. “It’s been wildly, wildly popular.”
The transition wasn’t without some worry. With “one of the best driving ranges in the County of San Luis Obispo,” Heptig admits he was concerned that the new offering would cannibalize existing business that was averaging about $110,000 to $115,000 a year for driving-range rentals.
“That actually hasn’t been the case,” he says. “Our driving-range numbers have actually doubled. We’ve already exceeded our 2019 levels just on our grass driving range and then added the Toptracer to that as well. So it’s just meant added activity of people practicing, coming out and having fun—which is really what Topgolf created Toptracer for.”
To keep the momentum going, the club targets those who use the new range with offers that entice them to play the golf course, and also hits the golf course database with offers to experience the range.
(Viewing time: 13 minutes)
KSBY in San Luis Obispo featured the new offering at Dairy Creek on its broadcast, as well.
Previous episodes of “The Road Back” can be viewed at https://clubandresortbusiness.com/category/the-road-back/
Upcoming episodes will highlight a unique new event organized by four clubs that share a same anniversary milestone, an historic club’s remarkable response after a disastrous structural collapse in its clubhouse, and how drone delivery is revolutionizing on-course F&B.
If you have a great idea or success story you’d like to see featured on a future episode of “The Road Back,” contact firstname.lastname@example.org.