Back in 2020, Allison George, owner of Toad Valley Golf Course, in Iowa, began exploring how she could boost her non-golf revenues and stay open year around – not an easy proposition considering Iowa’s bone-chilling winters.
And then she found what she calls “hands down the greatest improvement” she’s done in her 20 years at her facility for year-round revenue. It was a bold move: She got rid of her pro shop and put in two golf simulators. The cost? $200,000.
It turned out to be a healthy investment. Her two simulators bring in about $300,000 annually.
“I made more money in three months [with the simulators] than I did in three years with my pro shop,” George says.
As great as that sounds, George is quick to add that when it comes to generating non-golf revenue, “It isn't just one thing.” It appears she knows what she’s talking about: Toad Valley brings in roughly $800,000 annually in non-golf revenue, and that doesn't include food and beverage.
“It’s years of slowly growing in many different ways that entice all types of people to come to the golf course and then providing a welcoming atmosphere,” she says. “Our first addition was a miniature golf course. This wasn't an immediate money maker, but it lends itself to encouraging non-golfers to come to the course.”
Over the years, Toad Valley has hosted live bands, lunch and learns, beer and bingo nights, comedians, dueling pianos and many other events to show the community it could double as an entertainment center.
“Our focus is always on golf, but we try to maximize our space, parking lot and capabilities by thinking about things that people are interested in doing around town,” George says. “We ask: How can we provide entertainment that doesn't take away from golf, but uses the resources that we own?”
Toad Valley also converted its maintenance building into an events center and transformed a screened-in porch into a room that can host showers and graduation parties.
“These are small improvements that our community loves to use and it keeps us very busy,” George says. “We have a lot of building space that doesn't get used in the winter unless we organize something for people to use it. The more we push ourselves, the more it shows our community how they can use our event space.”
For Randy Anderson, owner of The Meadows Golf Club in Litchfield, Maine, non-golf revenue starts with defining a course’s purpose.
“Our purpose is fun, food and friends,” Anderson says. “This means doing non-golf activities such as hosting a winter triathlon, providing a full array of activities throughout the winter in the pub such as trivia night, themed dinners or comedy shows. Remember, we’re in the entertainment business and that includes food and drink and activities.”
Food and drink have proven particularly profitable at The Meadows, which is home to Doolin’s Pub. In 2021, it brought in $1.2 million – 40% more than golf. “Of that, about $500,000 was in the first and fourth quarters – remember, this is Maine,” Anderson says.
His tips for increasing your food and beverage income: “The food must be great, better than what you expect at a normal golf course. So get a great chef. Hire to fit your culture and values. Our staff is awesome. Be smart with pricing and know the different guest types. Know your competition. We rate and know the pricing of the courses within 25 miles of us. Commit to the restaurant business and don’t trust an outside party to run your restaurant. And market, market, market.”
Anderson says he’s in his fifth year of course ownership and that he had no experience in golf or restaurants.
“Our view is to constantly improve, try new and even crazy things, and make sure the team is engaged on our mission of being the place of fun, food and friends.”
This article was featured in the September/October edition of Golf Business magazine.