Council sets up golf course to be profitable amenity

By: 
Jill Meier, Journal editor
Brandon City Council is moving forth on their plans to make the municipal golf course a profitable entity.
 
At their Oct. 5 meeting, Justin Arlt, associated with both Sioux Falls Golf and Landscapes Unlimited, summarized the findings of a months’ long review of the full operation of the Brandon Golf Course. Arlt told the council the golf industry has changed over the last five years and said competition has become very complex among area courses. “So, it’s not uncommon that a golf course is reaching out to consulting companies to better the operation.”
 
Following the 2019 golf season, the council began discussions on putting out an RFP for a management company to help the improve the course’s bottom line.
 
“We got under the gun with the timetables making it difficult so we really wanted to have a consultant come in and help us get our bearings,” Alderwoman Dana Clark said. 
 
From Landscapes Unlimited’s review of course operations, Arlt said the city needs to focus on two specific areas to make the municipal course a profitable entity. First and foremost, top line revenues need to be increased in addition to a new sense of accountability to ensure all expenses are warranted and that the course staff works within the guidelines of the set budget.
 
He advised that the first focus could be accomplished by raising the spending of current members, increasing usage of the course and food and beverage venues by casual golfers and diners, as well as bringing in new customers.
 
“With the help of Landscapes Golf Management and under the leadership of a vibrant and energetic general manager (Andrew Bauer) and their engaged team, Brandon Golf Course can be set up for success for the future,” Arlt said.
 
“In reviewing your information, I think there’s a lot of good things out there we can do to improve the marketing, to improve the food, the venue, the upstairs banquet facility, grow those events, and I would like to see us move forward,” Clark said.
 
Arlt said it’s more important now than ever to utilize a golf management service because the 2020 season brought many new players to area golf courses, Brandon included.
 
“There’s no guarantee that those folks will continue to be golfers. Next year and the year after are going to be the big opportunity to provide them with that experience they’re looking for and the service they’re looking for,” Arlts said. “If we can do that, that bodes well for everybody and you’ll see long-term improvement and growth and that’s what’s going to hit the financials down the road.”
 
Arlt gives Bauer rave reviews for his work to date.
 
“Andrew is a very talented young golf professional that has done a great job the last year, but he wears a lot of hats and it gets back to what I said earlier with how the golf industry has changed. It’s more competitive and it’s not fair necessarily to lean on him to do the marketing and sales, manage and train, deal with food and beverage, the agronomy side and be able to do those things at a very high level, and that’s where a management company can come in and help assist and help develop,” Arlt said.
 
Three years ago, Arlt was hired as the head golf professional for the Sioux Falls city golf courses.
 
“None of the success I would have or the city golf courses of Sioux Falls have had over three seasons would be possible without Landscapes Golf Management with the tools and skills they provide,” he said. “I think that that’s the key. If Andrew is willing and you are willing, I think the team that we have in place can do some great things with Andrew and the golf course you have that’s outstanding.”
 
The golf management company would work to elevate financial results and stability, institute customer service and training, execute a complex business model, work to relieve stresses on day-to-day operations for Andrew and staff, and increase the Brandon course’s exposure regionally and nationally, in addition to buying power. 
 
“With 55 golf courses in 23 states and two countries, we have a lot of buying power and a lot of relationships that can help save the city golf course in Brandon a lot of money. We can help with leases and operational equipment that’s very, very expensive these days,” Arlt said.
 
Adding programs to the course offerings is one avenue the Brandon Golf Course could take to increase revenue. “The younger generation golfer is looking more for things that their spouse can do. It’s not just a men’s game anymore,” Arlt said. “If you want to be successful, it has to be the family. It has to be the husband and the wife and you have to have programming for the ladies as well as the men and the kids It has to be social; it has to be more than just golf.”
 
One program suggestion is staging informal social-themed couples’ golf events. 
 
“It’s what we call ‘hit and giggle golf,’” Arlt said. “Quite honestly, that is the growing population. You have to get them involved, get them that experience … (because golf) is not just for the guy who can shoot a 72 … it’s bigger than that.”
 
Arlt praised the clubhouse and view it offers.
 
“It is as good as or better than anything in this area and can be used in a lot of different ways, whether it’s in-season or out-of-season,” he said. “You can do a lot of fun, unique things year-round that can increase activity and have your facilities be more relevant and attractive so you grow the game, you grow the participation and ultimately, the bottom line. That’s kind of where the game is going, the industry is going and certainly in this area, it’s very, very competitive.”
 
To move ahead with the RFP, city administrator Bryan Read said he and Bauer will meet to draft piecemeal and full turnkey RFPs, which will be ready for the council’s review and possible approval at their Oct. 19 meeting. Pending RFP approval by the council at that time, Read recommended an RFP submission date of Nov. 8, which would give the council appropriate time to award a contract at their first meeting of December.
 
Along with a full turnkey RFP, the can also come up with RFPs for separate management services, such as food and beverage, agronomy, golf, marketing, etc.
 
“What we need to do is look at where we’re weak, where we need some help,” Read said.
 
Sioux Falls Golf uses Landscapes Unlimited’s turnkey management services.
 
“We wouldn’t recommend one way or the other. You have the total flexibility to make it what you want and meet the needs that you have,” Arlt said. 
 
Alderwoman Vickie Dwavid questioned what would be considered a fair amount of time for a management contract.
 
“Three years, five years?” she asked.
 
“It’s not a light switch, I’ll tell you that,” Arlt answered. “It really takes two or three years for it to build. You will see results right away but full the effects take time. Most have a five-year option and that seems to be a happy medium for most people.”
 
Clark indicated she favored the turnkey approach.
 
“When you go back to measuring success, I think it gets really challenging to figure that out if you have some piece and we have some piece,” she said. “When I look at your recommendations and your (defined) weaknesses, they’re not just in one area – they’re everywhere from training to food to marketing to kitchen to the condition of the course to the bunkers to programming … I guess I would be more interested in what we originally set out to do, and keeping our staff, which we talked about in our meeting.”
 

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