Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

From The Editor
by Terry Moore

OK, I'll admit it. I'm a guy forever stuck in the 50's and 60's. A card carrying Baby Boomer, I can't resist an allusion to those decades when television and music took hold of my imagination. So, please excuse those "retro" headlines on this issue's cover. (Hey, if you can forgive Jesper Parnevik's retro fashion line, you can excuse mine.) How many of you really remember Richard Boone as the dashing mercenary Paladin in the Friday night TV western series called "Have Gun, Will Travel"? I mean, Paladin was a cool dude who was into wearing black long before Gary Player. And he even had a business card. A man ahead of his times indeed. And as for the "And the Beat Goes On," don't you fellow boomers secretly share a little affection for some good old Sonny & Cher? I got you there, right babe?

Anyway, this is our annual New Golf Course Preview Issue, Part 1, where we give you a glimpse and a preview of some of the best new courses coming your way this season. It's just been amazing to witness the growth of the game in the state. Indeed, it's a great time to be a golf consumer. Never has there been such a variety and wealth of courses from which to select. You want upscale public? You got it in Twin Lakes, Hawk Hollow, and The Club at Thornapple Pointe to mention just a few. You're looking for some good local golf at moderate prices? Well, check out Shagbark, Golden Hawk, and Emerald Vale (and isn't that a nifty name for a course in the Irish town of Manton? And if you're cup of tee is resort, well Sugarloaf's new Palmer course (to be reviewed next issue) is just waiting for you.

The fact is that Michigan has been one of the top states in the U.S. in new course openings and new courses under construction for the last several years. When I travel around the country, many people in the business are well aware of the boom going on here. Invariably they'll ask me, "Hey, what's in the water up there driving all that business?" And a second question usually on its tail is: "You have enough golfers up there to handle all that capacity?"

Well, let's take 'em one at a time. What are the elements behind all the new golf construction in a state with a limited playing season? A quick answer is capital, business plans and dreams. The long answer is always more complicated and tough to generalize here in this space. But for sure, the abundance of land, the right soil, and water matched by a ready supply of capital and investment to make it happen must be near the top of the list. There are several projects that have substantial investment groups behind them. And certainly the public sector has finally seen the financial benefits of a well-run and managed golf course. Still others are Ma & Pa financed goals-in-progress, trying to realize a life-long dream of owning a golf course. Today, it often seems owning a golf course in Michigan is what owning a restaurant in Manhattan must be: some chic fulfillment of the American Dream.

Did you see the film "Big Night"? It's a terrific movie that tells how two immigrant brothers from Italy in the 50's struggle to make their mark in New Jersey with their fine yet little patronized Italian restaurant. Similarly, every year golf owners and managers are hoping for a "Big Day" with their new proud grand opening. For sure, many high hopes, aspirations and profit projections are floating over the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Will they all succeed? No. But even with the spate of new course openings, there's no reason for general alarm. According to a friend who works as a Bankruptcy Trustee and regularly travels 'round the state to play golf, he sees very few if any bankruptcies with Michigan golf courses. In general, Michigan golf courses are in seemingly good financial shape. Now that doesn't mean all are flush with profits and are rivaling Microsoft. On the contrary, most are modest enterprises run by frugal management. As the Trustee told me, successful golf courses are heeding such basic business principles as: good planning and financial forecasting; knowing one's market and target customer; and not over-reaching in terms of scale and start-up.

As far as the question whether or not there are enough golfers to sustain the growth, that deserves more than a curt reply. First, the demographics of golf are still very attractive. The game is just right for a Boomer population steadily growing older, more travel-oriented and still hungry for a competitive and/or recreational outlet. Plus golf is played outside. And in Michigan being outside is such a welcomed experience after the long winter. Golf captures this basic instinct. And let's not dismiss the growing phenomenon of Tiger Woods. He'll do for golf what Palmer did for the game in the 60's: energize it and bring a whole new generation into its thrall. So all in all, golf is in a healthy position.

Some golf proprietors are rightfully concerned that there aren't enough golfers in the state to fill all the new courses, especially up north. Many are saying that market share is being divvied up in smaller pieces. That's why better regional and national marketing is crucial. No doubt there are millions of crazed and overheated golfers in the Sunbelt and the Midwest that should be captivated by Michigan's summer golf experience. Getting them here in steady numbers, as Myrtle Beach does so effectively, will be the key to filling some of the course capacity.

Maybe that's a job for Paladin.

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