Last Update :10/24/2016

Golf course owners descend on Richmond

Golf course owners descend on Richmond

Since purchasing the Midlothian club in 2014, owner Giff Breed has added non-golf amenities that drive more bodies and more revenue to the club. (Michael Schwartz)

Since purchasing the Midlothian club in 2014, owner Giff Breed has added non-golf amenities that drive more bodies and more revenue to the club. (Michael Schwartz)


A fast-growing local golf club was in the spotlight this week as it played host to a gathering of golf course owners from in and outside the Richmond market.

Independence Golf Club hosted the annual meeting of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the National Golf Course Owners Association, a day-long conference where members of the industry discuss the good and the bad of what’s happening to the game in a time of changing tastes and demographics.

On hand was Jay Karen, CEO of the NGCOA, who spoke of the pressures course owners are under, caused by downward price pressure from online tee time marketers, decreased rounds growth and increased competition from all sorts of recreational activities besides golf.

Karen said the golf industry contends with formidable duality as it tries to find its place in a market that has shown consumers aren’t as willing to spend the time and money for a traditional round of golf, while not alienating its loyal players/customers.

“Tradition is one of golf’s watchwords,” Karen said. “And what is the antidote to tradition? Change.

“So we have this strange bipolar condition in golf.”

Karen also said the media has largely focused only on the negative, largely by comparing the current state of the golf industry to the sector’s high water mark from before the recession.

Karen said the NGCOA is looking for ways to help courses combat some of the modern pressures brought on by technology. The organization, for example, is forming the Golf USA Tee Time Coalition to help be a watchdog of sorts of online tee time marketers that many argue are a drag on the price courses can charge for rounds.

He said NGCOA wants to institute a national system to automate golf courses’ reporting rounds and revenue and is also keeping an eye on new technologies, such as Looper Golf, a company that wants to bring an Uber-like on-demand model to the golf caddy world.

There was also discussion of the trend of forward tees, which are tee boxes placed further up in the fairway as an alternative to the traditional men’s and women’s tee boxes. They’re intended to speed up the game and reduce players’ scores, thereby, in theory, making the game more enjoyable.

A good portion of the day’s events were consumed by discussions of the business model of Independence Golf Club and its owner Giff Breed. Since purchasing the Midlothian club in 2014, Breed has made changes to the public course to increase the pace of play and – of particular interest to the NGCOA crowd – added non-golf amenities that drive more bodies and more revenue to the club.

Lester George, a local golf course architect who helped Breed reconfigure Independence, said changes to the layout of the course at Independence helped decrease the time of an average round to 4 hours and 5 minutes, a reduction of 55 minutes.

Breed moderated a panel at the conference that featured local businessmen that have helped diversify Independence offerings. They include an on-course coffee hut and café run by a local coffee shop owner, a laser tag course in unused woods on the course’s property, a music and dance academy in unused space in the club house, and striking a deal with a local Lexus dealer to have hybrid Lexus drink carts on the course.

That model has helped fuel revenue growth at the club of 272 percent over the last three years, making Independence the third-fastest-growing business in Richmond, according to BizSense’s recent RVA 25 rankings.

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