The purpose of data in golf is not to store a wealth of information. It’s to make life easier and more efficient; to build a stable customer base rooted in service and understanding; to drive revenues through relationships and manage expenses in a way that keeps the business healthy and everyone involved happy.
That concept of data was nothing new to northern Virginia resident Stanley Campbell. For decades, Campbell was a successful information technology entrepreneur focusing on big data management and predictive analysis for intelligence, security and the healthcare industry. Some of his predictive models helped the FBI find and arrest the BTK Killer. But data had been a part of Campbell’s life for much longer than that. As a student at Florida A&M, the physics major wrote the data reduction algorithm and aero- analysis for the Voyager 2 spacecraft. Then he was a naval aviator where precise data was a matter of life or death. Telemetry and attitudes are pretty important when you’re landing a $40 million aircraft on a carrier deck at night. After that, he worked at NASA, the greatest data-crunching agency in human history. So finding patterns and seeing beauty in numbers was never a problem for Campbell. It was golf that was new.
“I play golf about four or five times a year,” Campbell said, explaining his entry into the industry of the game. “My wife has sponsored tournaments for about 25 years. I thought I was on my way to retirement. But I have a friend who has a barbecue truck in south Florida near the Intercoastal (Waterway). He called me one night at 9:00 and said, ‘Hey, there’s a golf course here for sale. It’s going to auction tomorrow morning.’ With one more partner, they thought they could get the deal done. I spent 30 minutes researching it and thought there was something wrong between what he was telling me and what I was seeing. The property is walking distance from the Florida Turnpike and about three miles from I-95. It’s eight miles away from Tiger Woods’s golf course and nine miles away from Michael Jordan’s golf course. It’s 200 acres and a clubhouse that is 20,000 square feet. After speaking with my lawyer, I called him back. I said, almost jokingly, I’d play three times what you guys say.
“The next thing I knew, I got a call saying, hey man, you own a golf course.” The course is Martin Downs in Palm City, which is part of the Port St. Lucie metropolitan statistical area, a region of Florida so saturated with golf that the PGA of America got out of the ownership business just a few miles away. But Campbell knew he had a hidden gem.
“I bought it sight unseen,” said Campbell, who, not for nothing, is one of only eight Black golf course owners in America. Two of the other seven are Woods and Jordan. “I took a flight down and the place was a mess. You could have landed airplanes on the fairways they were so hard. The fairways hadn’t been watered in five years. They were purchasing 150,000 gallons of water a day, which was barely enough to irrigate the greens. Meanwhile, the community around the course had been growing steadily. And it used to be a championship course. It was a qualifying course for the Honda Classic. So, there was a lot there. That’s when I realized that short of the place being a nuclear waste dump, I might have stumbled onto something.”
This was where his background in data analysis and predictive outcomes came into play. Even though he is a modest genius, Campbell realized that there were things about golf that he didn’t know and couldn’t know in time to get the doors opened. So he looked at the historical data and realized that 2015 was the height of the club’s success. To get it back there, he rehired the superintendent who had been at Martin Downs at that time, a man who had taken a raise to move down the road to PGA National as an assistant.
“The smartest thing I did during the process was find the guy who had once put this course in championship conditions and I told him, ‘I can guarantee you that you will retire from here,’” Campbell said. “I handed him a blank piece of paper and said, ‘Here is my offer. You write it in,’ because I knew that without him, I was looking at $1.5 million in irrigation repairs and upgrades alone. I also knew that if I didn’t get him, I wouldn’t get the nine guys he brought with him.
“After the first week, I pumped 450,000 gallons a day (onto the course) and found 34 (irrigation) leaks. We got to work fixing those. I was no expert in hydraulics, which was another reason bringing (the superintendent) in was so important. Then, I got Jacobsen to fund my marketing budget because we were the only facility with Jacobsen equipment in that South Florida region. They got to claim a foothold in South Florida, and we got our marketing and advertising paid for. It was a good deal for everybody.”
Campbell is an amazing man from an extraordinary family. Growing up in Miami with brothers, he was always competing. One of his older brothers is a PhD who speaks four languages. His younger brother didn’t send objects into deep space or help catch a serial killer. Instead, Luther Campbell formed a rap group, 2 Live Crew. But none of his success or his family’s celebrity stopped Stanley from mopping the floors of his new club when he discovered the leaks in the clubhouse roof.
“I got plumbers in; got electricians in; figured out where the leaks were. Then we repaired every leak and cleaned it so thoroughly that we discovered it was pink. Everybody in the neighborhood thought that roof was brown.
“Once we cleaned, painted and remodeled, we stress-tested the food and beverage operations,” he said, throwing out another standard operational procedure for a data analyst. “Our first stress-test was to open a kitchen from 9:00 to 2:00, golf hours with sandwiches. The second was to open from 9:00 to 5:00; then 9:00 to 7:00 including happy hour. Now we’re open 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. We have a fine-dining room called 18 that is as good as the best steakhouse you’ve been to in the last year. We also have a club room called Chippers. In total, we have three restaurants and I have five chefs so that we can run each of those at full capacity and not stress anyone.”
All of the Martin Downs advertisements have a QR code, as do the club’s menus. “That’s how you capture customer data,” Campbell said. “They scan that QR code and you have them in the system. You also capture your golf audience when they sign up (for a tee time) or check in. You get it before they walk out onto the first tee.”
He currently offers a $28 brunch that includes four rounds of golf for free. “We’re creating synergy between the restaurant and the course.”
But none of those extraordinary changes garnered Campbell the press he got for his first event at Martin Downs. “It had nothing to do with golf, nothing to do with food and beverage. Nothing to do with anything associated with a club,” he said. “We set up stations throughout the building and in the parking lot and we vaccinated the entire staff. We were the first course in the United States to have its entire staff vaccinated. And we were the first to offer that vaccination to the entire community. We vaccinated anyone in the neighborhood who wanted it.”
That is how you use data. That’s how you build relationships. That’s how you rescue a business from the courthouse steps.