Making green on the greens
Several factors determine a golf course’s revenue stream

By ALEX BELD - Daily News

June 7, 2017

Ron Morgan of West Bend operates a lawn mower as he cuts the rough between holes No. 4 and No. 5 on Tuesday morning at West Bend Lakes Golf Club. Morgan said he cuts the grass on nine holes two times a week.
John Ehlke/Daily News

With an average of 150 acres of land and more than half of that in maintained turf on 18-hole courses, it may come as little surprise that maintaining a golf course is the main cost for much of the golf industry.

The cost can be broken down into three areas — chemicals, equipment and payroll.

On a year-to-year basis, fertilizer, fungicide and other chemicals are the greatest cost other than payroll.

And though equipment like mowers aren’t purchased as frequently, it can pose a budgeting challenge for some courses.

West Bend Lakes Golf Club owner Jim Merkel said at his course he experiences about a 15-year turnover in equipment, costing a bit more than $400,000.

“That’s basically $30,000 a year,” he said.

Marlene Kell of West Bend transfers hosta plants to a cart to place elsewhere on the course as a golfer tees off Tuesday morning at West Bend Lakes Golf Club.
John Ehlke/Daily News

Keeping up with the facilities and golf cart fleet creates another large cost for many courses, and though necessary, aren’t as much of a challenge.

According to Merkel and Washington County Golf Course PGA Professional Clubhouse Supervisor Craig Czerniejewski, the biggest factor in revenue challenges is weather.

A less common challenge to a season mentioned by Czerniejewski was economic hardship. He said the hobby sport sees a drop in play during those times.

“Your expenses don’t go away when you shut down,” Merkel said about rain out days. “We sell time.”

Czerniejewski said, “It’s kind of a give and take,” adding cold and dry weather reduces some costs, but hot and wet weather can mean more mowing and less golfing.

Even the threat of rain multiple days out can cause a dip in golfers at the course on the day the rain is forecasted for.

“People made their plans two days in advance,” Merkel said, adding some rainy days end up busy because of a change in the forecast.

Some may think a bar and a pro shop could help offset the cost of lost days, but this isn’t necessarily the case. This would generally be the same for other revenue sources like lessons.

Those areas of the business are “directly affected by the number of golfers you have out there,” Merkel said. “Usually it’s a spur of the moment thing.”

Weather, however, isn’t necessarily able to provide an advantage to one golf course over another when they’re in the same area, which means the courses also have to compete for golfers.

Merkel said the open play, transient golfer is the target market. He added they will typically play five or six courses, but favor one.

This creates a need for marketing, but other than word of mouth, Merkel said there is little agreement on which method is best for the golf industry.

With about 15 other courses near his, Merkel said, “You have to serve the people you’ve got or you’re not going to make it.” He added this has become increasingly true since the 1990s. At that time, courses were opening often, but the trend has reversed in the saturated market.

This month, courses throughout Washington County will each have a chance at selling more tee times with the increased activity caused by the U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

With the championship being hosted within at least 40 miles of both the county course and West Bend Lakes Golf Club, both Merkel and Czerniejewski expect a bump in activity, at least for a few days.

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