It’s no secret that I get around the golf industry in Minnesota and Wisconsin… this year I defied my creaky right knee to play 50 different courses and visited with operators of another 100+. Here’s a recap of some of the more interesting anecdotes from my 2017 travels. Please feel free to add your own favorite golf experiences of the year as comments to this post.
Yin and Yang – In June I organized a golf tour of Wisconsin with 7 buddies and I had an experience that reminded me why golf is the greatest game in the world. On consecutive days, our group played a $400 round of golf at Whistling Straits and a $15 closest-to-the-pin eightsome at a nearby par 3 course. Which was the better value? Read my post on The Yin and Yang of Golf and feel free to post some feedback.
It’s About Time – I was really pleased to hear recently that Tom Abts of Deer Run Golf Club in Victoria, MN was named the 2017 Minnesota PGA Pro of the Year. It’s about time! From the time I stuck my nose under the golf industry tent five years ago, it has been clear that Tom is one of the leading lights of the local golf industry. Hopefully this recognition will shine a light on Tom’s best-of-breed practices for managing a golf course operation that provides fun experiences for golfers and generates sustainable financial results. If I was a young man or woman aspiring to carve out a career in the golf industry, I’d go visit this Jedi master for some tips… I’ve found him very willing to share his experiences with others who are passionate about golf.
The Energizer Bunny Is In Overdrive – I have several nicknames for Kevin Unterreiner, the peripatetic golf entrepreneur and creator of TwinCitiesGolf.com… the Pied Piper (for the legions of golfers who follow him), P.T. Barnum, Jr. (for his relentless marketing activities) and the Energizer Bunny of Golf (does this guy ever sleep?). Not only is Kevin still operating 50+ golf events a year (both indoor and outdoor) on his TwinCitiesGolf Tour, but this past year his Public Country Club went into overdrive, offering members an opportunity to have playing privileges at 55 courses… up from 15 the previous year. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for 2018. Kevin does more to cajole and encourage and help golfers get to the first tee than anyone else in the Upper Midwest. While his talent and drive are difficult to replicate, his underlying secret is open to everyone to emulate… if you give people more choices and opportunities to play golf, they’ll play more golf.
Troubled Bridge Over Water – After many years of political wrangling and a construction project that strayed off schedule, the Saint Croix Crossing Bridge is finally a reality and that opens up some new pathways for MN and WI golfers. Minnesotans can now zip easily from the East Metro to the plethora of fine courses on the Wisconsin side of the border and those courses are stepping up. For example, many of us are looking forward to sampling the new clubhouse at White Eagle next year. Likewise, Cheeseheads from northwest Wisconsin will find it easier to make the trek west to play the treasure trove of great tracks on the Stillwater/Northeast MSP Metro area. Win-win.
RIP – We’ve had a few more deaths in the family. Hillcrest Country Club has closed for good after a 95 year run in Saint Paul. Mississippi Dunes closed early in 2017 and it appears that this incredible property on the banks of the Mighty M may become a residential area. These are two significant losses, as these were both outstanding golf courses. Rumors abound that we may have more casualties this year. This is part of an ongoing national trend driven by the simple economic principle that the supply of golf currently exceeds the demand. Going forward, we need to begin to balance the equation not just by reducing supply but also by increasing demand.
Anticipation – We do have some new births to celebrate. The old Tartan Park is being re-born as the Royal Golf Club in 2018 and GM Jim Leary and team will be ready to welcome you with open arms for your first look at the Arnold Palmer-Annika Sorenstam design. There’s even a 6 hole pitch and putt for a warm-up or nightcap. The new Sand Valley golf mecca in central Wisconsin will be adding a 2nd 18 hole regulation course and a 17 hole par-3 (designed by Coore and Crenshaw) in 2018. I don’t know about you, but I’m heading to Sand Valley in 2018.
Take That, Scotland! – Early in 2017, Wisconsin was named by Golf Advisor as #1 golf destination in the world! You read that right… not Scotland, not Ireland, not Palm Springs, not Hilton Head, not Phoenix, not Florida… WISCONSIN. And we all know Minnesota is no slouch… we’ve got an embarrassment of riches here.
Passion Abounds – One thing that makes me optimistic about the future of golf is the sheer number of people I run across who are so passionate about the game and who are pouring incredible energy into new opportunities for golfers. This year’s crop of new acquaintances included Jason Kauflin of Wisconsin Golf Trips and Jason Patronas of GolfScoreCloud… these guys are pumped up about the game and bringing amazing new energy to their respective ventures.
What’s New? Not Enough! – While the entrepreneurs I just mentioned are proliferating, there is a lot more that needs to be done to get the demand for golf growing again. Early in 2017, I made a pledge to visit 250 golf courses in 100 days… my plan was to ask each golf course operator “what’s new at your course that will help golfers play more golf this year”… and to post the results on the GroupLooper Facebook page. There was just one problem… a very high % of operators had no answer to the question… either I was talking to the wrong people or the courses had nothing new for 2017. I stopped after about 50 courses to gather my thoughts. We need to do better than that… every course should have at least one exciting new option for golfers every year.
A Ray of Light – That early experience in 2017 weighed on my mind all year long… wondering how we could collectively provide golfers with more choices that would stimulate them to play more rounds of golf. The idea that rose out of those musings was MORE 18s IN ’18… a co-op marketing effort designed to help every golfer in Minnesota and Wisconsin play at least one more round of golf in 2018. Most individual course operators don’t have the bandwidth to generate or administer new programs each year… but if we pool our collective efforts a lot of things become possible. If two heads are better than one, just think what 100 heads (or more) can do. If you’re not already involved in More 18s in ’18, use the link to learn more and get on board.
We hope you found those anecdotes entertaining. Now start the video below and while the Beach Boys are entertaining you, please post a comment and share your your top golf-related experience of 2017… we know that you get around, too.