MARIETTA, GA | NGCOA chief executive officer Jay Karen did not hold back when he spoke to a group of prospective Black owners at the African American Golf Expo and Forum held in the northern Atlanta suburb of Marietta. To be clear, Karen wasn’t negative in his presentation on what it means to own a golf course. But he didn’t sugarcoat it, either.
“What does it take to be a golf course owner?” Karen asked rhetorically in his opening remarks before a room of prospective Black course owners. “It takes getting real.”
The seminar was the first of its kind for the NGCOA, which, according to Karen, has worked for years in the area of minority advancement.
“At the board level, we have a (diversity, equity and inclusion) policy now,” he said. “But we have been involved in things like the National Minority Golf Foundation for some time. And we’ve supported the PGA efforts (at advancing the minority ranks in the golf business). But as an organization that represented owners in the industry, we never really landed on what we should do. The PGA was working on workforce development. But as owners, we scratched our heads and said, ‘What can we do?’ This event provided us with that first opportunity.”
Two current owners made compelling presentations in the room. Rock Lucas, former NGCOA president and the owner of Charwood Golf Club in West Columbia, South Carolina, is not Black. But he provided attendees with a masterclass on zoning and land use.
Also in the room was Stanley Campbell, the new owner of Martin Downs Golf Club in Palm City, Florida. Campbell, who is Black, is an IT executive in the healthcare industry who lives in suburban Washington, D.C. According to his own telling, Campbell took the money from the home he and wife planned to build in retirement and bought Martin Downs. A former Navy aviator, Campbell wowed attendees with stories of what he called his “inside / outside” strategy. “Everything that occurs outside the structures, that is on the golf course, is part of your outside strategy,” he said. “And everything that occurs inside your structures, your restaurants and your retail operations, that’s your inside strategy. The key is to maximize both so that one doesn’t become wholly dependent upon the other.”
Attendees also heard from a Black owner in Appalachia, Bill Neal, who owns Woodridge Golf Club in Mineral Wells, West Virginia. Neal pulled no punches in detailing the struggles he experienced as a Black owner. “There has been discrimination, yes,” he said. But he also spoke about how rewarding it has been to look out the window of his clubhouse at the lush 150-acre course below him and know that he owns it.
Of the 15,000 golf courses in America, only eight have Black owners. Two of those owners are Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. Two more are Bill Neal and Stanley Campbell. The NGCOA hopes to help others with a passion enter the fray.
Things like valuation models, revenue projections, micro-analysis of markets, and the myriad of unknowns that affect the bottom line were all discussed. “If you were to ask, what kind of income does a restaurant make? The answer is: it depends,” Karen said. “Some public golf courses bring in $500,000 in total income; some bring in $3 million; some bring in $20 million. It depends on the size and scope of your business.
Then Karen pulled an example from his own past experiences. “When I was in the lodging industry, I specialized in inns that were under 50 rooms,” he said. “About once a month, we had these experts on what it meant to buy and sell inns who would give two-day seminars to aspiring inn owners, a lot of whom came to innkeeping after a career in something else. They were about to put their nest egg into owning an inn because they thought it would be idyllic to have guests and cook them breakfast every morning. Half of that seminar was designed to be real. The other half was designed to scare people away.
“Now, this isn’t a ‘scared straight’ thing,” he said to the crowd. But before he could continue, Campbell interrupted with, “Yes, it is.”
The room broke into laughter.
Then Karen summed up the seminar in one simple statement. “You should not go into this lightly,” he said.
No one in attendance disagreed.