Detroit wants golfers to give its courses a mulligan.
Article by Ken Nagl, Crain’s Detroit Business CRAINSDETROIT.COM (March 27, 2019)
Around this time last year, City Council had just scrambled to keep the courses from closing amid talks to cut losses and potentially sell them. A bitter split with previous operators, coupled with years of underinvestment, left the golf courses in less-than-stellar condition.
As spring commences, and the city finalizes $2.5 million worth of much-needed improvements at its three courses, officials are promising a new chapter. First, they need to remind people the courses are open for business.
“The resounding message that we’ve heard was, ‘Oh, you guys are still open?’” said Karen Peek, director of operations for North Carolina-based Signet Golf Associates, which was contracted by the city last year to run its courses. “I said, you know, we are very much open. We look forward to outstanding course conditions this season.”
Chandler Park, on the city’s east side, has opened on warm weather days for the past couple of weeks, while Rouge Park, on the west side, opened Sunday. Rackham, spread across land in Huntington Woods, is open year-round during fair weather. Palmer Park, a former course on the north end of the city that had been in decline for many years, was converted to a public park last year.
Management is trying to bring back the courses to adequate repair and at least break even from a financial standpoint, said Brad Dick, general services director for the city. Revenue last season was just shy of $2 million, with around $2.8 million of operating expenses. Projected revenue this season is $3.2 million. That would be a comfortable margin for the city, allowing it to pay the bills and maintain the assets, Dick said.
“We’re trying to get the word out that we’re open again,” Dick said. “We had to start from scratch.”
Compared to last year, they are off to a running start. League player registration — a key source of stable revenue — is up from last year at all three courses, Peek said. Chandler added 60 golfers to reach 280 total; Rouge added 70 and is just less than 300; and Rackham is at 550, up 50 from last year. Peek expects those numbers to keep ticking up as the city promotes its courses via e-blasts, social media and other advertising.
In total, Rackham recorded 34,000 rounds played last year, while Rouge and Chandler had around 21,000 each. Expectations this season are to hit 45,000 at Rackham, and 30,000-35,000 at the other two.
“Our projections are very aggressive,” Peek said. “I think we will see double-digit growth from a percentage standpoint.”
The city expects the capital improvements to drive that growth and improve the image of the courses.
The largest investment has been made at Chandler Park, which had been troubled by burned-out greens and tattered fencing along I-94 for years. A new $800,000, digital irrigation system is almost completely installed and expected to keep the course green this summer, while another few hundred thousand dollars went toward new fencing.
Most of the rest of the investment was poured into Rouge Park with several new bridges throughout the course and a $190,000 pavilion in the works. An additional $250,000 will be invested to replace fencing around the course, as well, Dick said.
Chandler and Rouge are still undergoing vegetation removal and turf improvement, as well as drainage enhancements and tee renovations. Rackham received some minimal clubhouse repairs, but as the biggest moneymaker of the trio, the course had not been neglected in years past like the other two.