The Golf Course Study Committee Report: Fore?

DebSF -- January 28th, 2011

The Harrisonburg Golf Study Committee presented their final report to City Council at the Tuesday, January 25 meeting.  As the DNR reported, committee member Davis Walsh presented the recommendations on behalf of the committee.

The seven page report, a product of weekly committee meetings between October 11, 2010 and January 20, 2011, is organized around the five areas:  existing facilities, marketing efforts, operations and maintenance practices, current trends/course comparisons and projections.  The report makes two underlying assumptions; that the course itself is a valuable asset to the community, and that the organizational structure, culture and management of the course must change in order to move Heritage Oakes toward a more sustainable financial footing.

Existing Facilities

The most striking committee recommendation concerns adding a food/beverage sales area.  The preferred location is on the concrete pad located southwest of the clubhouse, currently used for cart storage.

A new cart storage area would need to be created. During construction, the committee suggests  that food/beverage sales begin in a temporary area between the 9th green and 10th tee.   The committee does not specify the expected capacity of the restaurant/lounge, and the report does not explicitly recommend -or even mention- serving alcohol.  Outsourcing food service is considered a viable option.

Other recommended facility changes include making the grounds more attractive (such as turning water retention areas into landscaped ponds) with the help of garden clubs and civic organizations, and altering dam levels on ponds to provide a more stable water supply for the course.    Expanding the after-hours use of the grounds for purposes such as walking/running are not mentioned.

Marketing Efforts

The primary recommendation in this area involves a significant change in both organizational structure and personnel. The  position of program manager/marketing director would be created, and the assistant-pro position eliminated. The marketing director would be responsible for creating and  implementing programs to attract and retain customers.    The report suggests a significant upgrade the course’s web presence, from constructing a more appealing and customer-friendly website to establishing a presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.   Electronic information should be gathered along with other relevant customer information, and e-mail lists used to distribute information about special discounts and tournaments.

Additional marketing tools suggested include:  increasing the number of special events and mini-tournaments, differential pricing for seasonally slow periods, designing and implementing a membership retention program, and  developing corporate relationship through pricing and sponsorship deals.

Operations and Maintenance

Cost-cutting is extensively addressed. According to the report, management is already reducing inventory in the pro shop, and addressing customer-centered issues such as merchandise presentation and appeal.  The committee recommends a 10% target reduction in the pro shop budget, to be achieved by both decreasing the level of merchandise on-hand and cutting both staff hours and the number of part-time staff.  The committee also suggests a cut in maintenance payroll, currently 62% of the budget. Private courses maintenance payroll generally run 53% of the budget;  some of this difference is due to city government employment policies.    The committee proposes implementing a volunteer golf ranger program (currently the course has one part-time employee in this position).  Rangers, who would work in exchange for rounds,  act as referees and starters, help to ensure that play proceeds in an orderly fashion, trouble-shoot problems on the course, and spread positive word-of-mouth and good will about the programs.

Some savings may also be achieved by purchasing partnerships with other area courses for grounds supplies. Staff training, with attention paid to customer service is also strongly recommended.  Leasing some equipment may be preferred to purchasing, an additional area that should be explored.

Trends, Comparisons, and Projections

Though the current economic downturn has affected golfing revenues nationwide, 24,000 rounds are projected for 2012.  If food and beverage service becomes available, the committee projects that 27,000 rounds will be played in 2013, and 29,000 in 2014.  The report does not indicate how these projections were generated.

3 Responses to “The Golf Course Study Committee Report: Fore?”

  1. Jason B says:

    I have to say that I’m glad the city didn’t pay (much) for this report. It is based on faulty assumption that the course is a benefit to the community, for starters.

    I also have a hard time understanding how spending more money on a course that has been bleeding dollars for so long will improve the overall financial health of the course. This concern is borne out by the apparently make-believe numbers the committee chose to back up their assertion. I just have a hard time envisioning golfers choosing a golf course based on whether or not there is a food and beverage stand in place. The report, though helpful in some ways, appears to exist in a void somehow.

  2. Golfer Joe says:

    food & beverage are as important to a golf operation as tee markers and flag sticks. If they didn’t produce revenue + increase rounds they would not be in 90% of successful golf operations and 99% of new construction courses. It’s like not having a concession stand at a movie theater or no hot dogs at the ballpark.

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