Brian Conley, the 2017 Georgia PGA Section Merchandiser of the Year – Resort and the 2017 Georgia PGA Section North Chapter Golf Professional of the Year, is the President of the Georgia PGA Section and the PGA General Manager at the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta, Georgia.
Brian Conley on the importance of making parts of your tee sheet walking only:
The pandemic has been a very interesting experiment in walking, with the power of walking becoming profitable. We opened – after a renovation that made our golf course a reversible, nine-hole facility – in 2018 with a heavy riding clientele. Prior to the renovation we were a municipal facility at a very different price point, and there were a core group of walkers who wanted to continue to walk. Upon reopening we created a special rate after the tee sheet cleared out later in the day so they could walk until dark. Entering 2020 we were a 90 percent/10 percent in terms of riding versus walking rounds. As first mentioned in the New York Times, that ratio is now 74 percent/26 percent walking versus riding. How we got there has been an interesting journey.
Brian Conley on the business impact of making parts of your tee sheet walking only:
Entering 2020 we went from offering 18-hole rounds to nine-hole rounds only. If you wanted to play 18 holes, you needed to book two tee times. That was beneficial to us. Then the pandemic happened, and golf boomed. We decided that even though golf cars were never officially banned in this part of Georgia by any government entity, it was just easier to make our course walking only. We also were lucky enough to demo an autonomous, hands-free robot caddie from our cart provider. The player simply walked, with the robot caddie following a transmitter on the player’s belt or waistband, keeping it at proper distance. That allowed those who would usually need a golf car because of an inability to carry their bags – for example those with back problems – the opportunity to play. This saved us big time in various expenses, including not needing to constantly sanitize golf cars. Fast forward to 2021 and we are now a walking only facility daily before noon (10am during hot summer months) and have seen revenues continue to rise. Those increases have come partially via auxiliary revenue streams, with greens fees being separated out from golf car fees. There are now three options, offered à la carte, if you choose not to carry your bag: traditional push carts, golf cars and the robot caddie. Removing golf car fees from overall golf fees may have the biggest long-term impact. In 2020, electing to be a walking only facility with green fees, we saw the return of equivalent pre-pandemic golf fee revenue (when golf car fees were included) within 30 days and were trending higher with our dynamic pricing model within 60 days. Additionally, in 2021, there’s been no mad rush for golf cars after 12pm. We’re averaging less than four and a half cars per hour on a tee sheet structure where we can do 24 rounds per hour. Walking has become the cool thing, and with us making equivalent-to-higher revenues by divorcing golf car fees from greens fees, it sure looks like we’ll be walking only at certain times for years to come.
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The principals of Bobby Jones Links own the company - we are not driven by investor expectations or private equity pressure. The benefit to you is happier associates and long-term thinking.
As a result, we don’t leverage our operational leadership across too many clubs. And unlike many companies in our business, we don’t require long-term management agreements with large breakup fees. If you like what we do, you’ll keep us. For more than two decades our clients have renewed our management services more than any other company.