Man! I don't know how many times I've warned first time golf course buyers to be prepared for lots of frustration, more cash calls than they are prepared for, and how much patience they will need.

Very few businesses are subject to as many outside influences as do golf courses - not the least of which is the weather.


Well, we call golf course budgets wild-ass-guesses (WAGS), because the only sure numbers on the spreadsheet are the taxes.

Why do I warn people not to buy a golf course - unless they are 100% prepared?

Golf courses are complex businesses that require all components to orchestrate together in harmony. The basic components are:

  • A Grass Farm
  • A Restaurant and Bar
  • A Retail Merchandise Business
  • A Leisure Customer Service Business

Operating a golf courses basically means you are running a business whereby all you can do is screw up. I mean, slow greens, un-raked bunkers, crappy hot dogs, dirty washrooms, and 5-hour rounds are just a few of the screw ups that can occur at even the finest golf operations.

A golf course is one of few businesses that have nothing to do with life - like a grocery store or a doctor's office. Your customers come to your business to enjoy themselves. All you have to do is avoid failing their expectations.

As a general manager with 50-years experience operating golf courses, my job boiled down to endlessly putting out fires. I mean re-training employees, repairing irrigation systems, defending the budget, answering to the banker, saving a disgruntled customer, fixing a leaky roof, finding who stole a bottle of Canadian Club, and on and on - every day!

Are you prepared for that? I know you say you are now, but wait until a customer tells you your greens suck! I mean, try telling your wife who spent all day preparing you a fabulous dinner that the meal sucks. Then duck the frying pan!

Here's some real and daunting aspects of a golf course that first time golf course owners don't properly anticipate:

  • Golf courses employ the lowest paid people in the work force. It requires a special skill to keep $8 dollar-an-hour employees enthused about their jobs
  • Golf courses answer to just about every government agency - environment, liquor license, sales tax, fire marshall, building inspector, police chief, food safety inspector, etc., etc.
  • Golf courses are scrutinized closely by environmentalists - often neighbors unreasonably
  • A golf course is a highly sophisticated farm that harvests its crop every week on fairways, every single day on greens!
  • It's a merchandise business with a very short turnover period
  • It's a food and beverage business trying to compete with franchises less than a mile away
  • It needs careful liability insurance planning
  • It's often a member club that bargains with you on prices every day
  • A golf course needs continuous skilled marketing. You can never stop.
  • Competition is everywhere: In 2014, nearby competitors are in a price war with you for customers
  • Since 2008, the cost of maintaining golf courses has gone up while fees you can charge have gone down
  • There are fewer golfers today than there were in 2000
  • A rained out business day at a golf course is 100% unrecoverable

Those are among the issues and concerns that hit your desk virtually every day.

Here's what happened to a recent first time golf course buyer:

First there was the 'honeymoon' period where the enjoyment of owning a golf course was euphoric. Playing his own golf course every day was joyful. However, after about 8 months, the shine was wearing off. A period of poor weather resulted in negative cash flow. An older golf course, problems like air conditioners, irrigation leaks, plumbing problems were endless and costly - even warned of these perils the now disillusioned owner was becoming frustrated. Then what I predicted began to happen.

Every first time golf course owner I've dealt with over the years has fallen into the same pattern. It's the time when the owner starts micro-managing the business by directing personnel directly rather than through the GM or director of golf. It's the downfall of management and operational continuity. It begins when outflow outpaces inflow, and the new owner starts taking over his golf course business. Without the patience he said he had, decisions from 'left field' start becoming orders - direct to employees bypassing their direct managers.

When I see that scenario I advise the owner to get out of the business and go on with life.

What do boats and golf courses have in common?

You'll have two happy days.

laughing guyThe day you buy it, and

The day you sell it!

Let me help. So you won't be the brunt of this joke!