According to a report by Crain’s Cleveland Business, golf course properties in Northeast Ohio saw a drop in days open in 2013 due to inclement weather, prompting properties to seek out indoor activities such as golf simulators, food and beverage specials, and entertainment to keep customers on-site.
As with properties across the country that rely on mild weather, golf courses in Northeast Ohio have to come up with creative ways to keep customers coming back when rain and snow arrive, Crain’s Cleveland Business reported.
“If you lose a day (because of weather), you’re done,” said David Kinnell, head pro at Pine Hills Golf Club in Hinckley. “There is no way you can make up for it.”
The Northern Ohio section of the PGA reported a 6.2% drop in rounds played and an 11% plunge in days open in 2013 versus 2012, Cleveland Business reported.
But 2013 wasn’t nearly as bad as the very rainy 2011, which Jimmy Hanlin, Director of Golf at Little Mountain Country Club in Concord and StoneWater Golf Club in Highland Heights, refers to as “Armageddon.”
“Everything seems great compared to that year,” Hanlin said.
Local courses surveyed by Crain’s said by keeping a tight grip on their expenses and exhausting every revenue outlet, they were able to keep their finances in line in 2013.
Bunker Hill Golf Course in Medina has six simulators. Depending on the model, the high-tech gadgets that can simulate play on big-name courses such as Pebble Beach and Doral can cost as much as $90,000 each, Cleveland Business reported.
“That is a good way for us to make up a little extra (money),” said Chase Pinchot, General Manager at Bunker Hill, which stays in touch with customers all year long via email. “But in the same sense, we have six simulators and you could have 24 golfers (four on each simulator) in there from 9 in the morning to 9 at night, and that still isn’t going to make up for a course full of people all day.”
Pine Hills has discussed adding simulators “as a winter revenue source,” Kinnell said, but the cost might outweigh the benefits, Cleveland Business reported.
“If everyone starts doing it, it doesn’t make much sense,” Kinnell said.
Further, Pine Hills would need to add on to its clubhouse to create space for the simulators, and Kinnell estimated that makeover would cost about $750,000, including the price of the simulators, Cleveland Business reported.
“You have to make enough room for it to be enjoyable,” Kinnell said.
StoneWater, which went private in 2014, does “all kinds of stuff” to increase its revenue, Hanlin said. Besides food and beverage specials, merchandise sales, live musical performances and even dance lessons, the club has hosted comedy shows, Cleveland Business reported.
“You try to get people to eat, drink and come to the pro shop,” Hanlin said. “It’s not always related to golf, but usually it is. Your core customer is the golfer.”
Sean McHugh, Director of Golf Operations for Cleveland Metroparks, said his group has tried something different—cross country skiing at the park system’s golf courses. “We rent out skis, which gave us a little (revenue) bump,” McHugh said, adding that skiing also means more labor costs.
Shale Creek Golf Club in Medina opened an 11,000-sq. ft. clubhouse last May. General Manager Scott Schreck said the course only had about a 2% dip in rounds played in 2013, a figure he attributes to the new clubhouse helping to generate a booked calendar of golf outings and group events, Cleveland Business reported.
The public course is surrounded by 300 private lots with about 240 houses. Shale Creek has a pool and fitness center that is available only to residents. “We’re lucky in that situation,” Schreck said. “We’re more of a community than a golf course.”
Fowler’s Mill Golf Course in Chesterland had a similarly optimistic view of an otherwise gloomy 2013. Rounds played were down 2% compared to 2012, but revenues rose, thanks in part to its banquet and wedding facility, General Manager Mike Mucciarone told Cleveland Business.
“We actually had a great year last year,” Mucciarone said.
Shale Creek’s Schreck said trimming labor costs is the top way for parent company Granite Golf Properties to counter poor weather. “We have to manage that dollar very closely,” he said. “It’s difficult at times. We look to manage that labor dollar without giving up the service our customer has come to expect. It’s not their fault that the weather is bad.”
“You use every little measure you can to save a dollar here and there,” said the Metroparks’ McHugh. “We watch the weather. If the weather looks bad, we’ll tell the starters and rangers not to come in. In a way, it’s sad because you’re telling someone not to come to work, but it’s business, I guess.”
Ultimately, many course operators are left with hope for brighter days, Cleveland Business reported.
“There really isn’t much you can do,” Hanlin said. “You just try to have a better year the next year. People aren’t coming to the golf course to eat and drink if it’s raining. Those revenues are really tied into how many people are driven to the door.”