If You’ve Ever Wanted to Own a Golf Course
Sooner or later, every golf devotee toys with the idea, usually a fantasy, of owning a golf course. In most cases, they have a specific course in mind. I certainly did when my family had the chance to buy Neskowin Beach, which is now 80% under water through most of the year. There really is no such thing as “gentleman course owners,” any more than there are “gentleman vintners.” It’s work, all the time, and then some more work. Not surprisingly, it’s also extremely expensive. Every iota of visual we see playing golf is tailored to appear that way, and very little is the way it was in its natural condition. Even the most sinister areas where a golf ball can land are designed and carefully fashioned.
My research tell me that an average to above average to top-level course can cost anywhere between two to five million, but at least there are a lot of opportunities to get into the industry, with so many people either wearing out and moving on, or just plain failing. Leave, for the moment, the part of golf overseen by nature, and look at clubhouses. If it’s a hole in the wall course, you can get by selling Fritos and cokes in a shack, but the more posh you get, the closer you get to dining and hosting. How about repairing or installing air condition and heating, or at the best, just paying for it every month.
Many feel that the best golf course to get is on the coast. That’s a host of new problems, including high property values and all sorts of climate damage. Buy a fixer-upper, and you’re going to want to make sweeping changes and upgrades to get the customers to come. The dark side of that is that the expense puts you behind the 8-ball at the very moment you can at least afford it, before the clientele shows up. You could end up behind the revenue curve for the rest of your life.
The game of golf is currently oversupplied, and the average golf course has depreciated 50% in the last couple of decades. One question to ask is whether a resort is attached. It it’s a stable, long visited one, that can be good. Maintenance costs for a course in the above price range from 700 thousand up…way up. Cheap courses are usually cheap for a good reason (There it is again, the Neskowin course I wanted so badly creeping into my head). Think of the preparation and maintenance of lawns, greens, vehicles, labor help, plants, landscaping, and a host of amenities. Are you sure you want to do this? Of course, then you have to engage a pro and possibly other instructors. Benches, tee markers, flagsticks and ball washers, putting greens and driving ranges are a drop in the bucket, but they’re big drops for most budgets.
I heard an interview last night by a golf course owner whose enterprise is going to be split down the middle by Donald Trump’s wall. He bemoaned that the American president drove his cart all over the greens, which cost $125,000 each to perfect. Even golfers sometimes don’t realize that a green is a lot more than short cut grass.
So here’s the kicker. Where are your returns coming from, and in what time span – that is “if the creek don’t rise,” the hurricane blows, the drought descends, or the coronavirus unleashes itself on your planet. A southern golf course, in good times, can have a 12-month playing season, but a northern course, depending on elevation and other things, can be viable for three to five months. Trees that don’t require uprooting may require restoration or at least maintenance.
This list could go on for days, but the entrepreneurial drive in this wannabe golf course owner has been whittled down to a try at miniature golf. Next time you play, remember that the person who owns the course you’re playing is in hock up to his or her eyeballs to keep it viable. And, next time you want to buy one, whip out your calculator and ponder the dark side of life and nature. Ownership is for a special few.