While other golf courses have been closing across the region, the two operated by the city of Hamilton are finding success by embracing the casual golfer, and offering value for players’ recreational dollars.
Adam Helms, city government’s general manager of the Twin Run and Potter’s Park courses, recently told City Council the number of rounds played at Potter’s were up nearly 10 percent in 2015 over 2014, while rounds at Twin Run were up 9.3 percent.
Part of the reason for the improvement was the unseasonably warm November and December, so, “we got to extend the golf season quite a bit this year,” Helms said. Another reason: more golf outings at Twin Run in 2015.
Revenues at the two courses combined were $1,138,000, up 3.2 percent from 2014, while expenses were up 2.8 percent, Helms reported. Lower fuel costs helped on the expense side.
“We finished the year with an almost $63,000 profit, which is more than last year,” Helms said. That amount would have been about $20,000 higher, he said, but he bought some course aerifying equipment for about $20,000, rather than spending $14,000 per year in the future to rent the equipment.
Meanwhile, the courses’ reserve balance, essentially the savings account, has reached $323,254, up from $135,474 in 2012.
“My plan is to continue to build this fund balance,” Helms said, because by 2019 he hopes to buy a new golf-cart fleet for about $300,000.
“If I can buy those carts outright, we’re going to be taking another $40,000 in operating expenses off of our books, and then we’ll really be on pretty firm financial footing there,” Helms said.
Council members were pleased to hear of the courses’ financial and attendance successes, and noted they were glad Hamilton didn’t get rid of the golf operations earlier this decade.
“I could never understand why we would lose money on golf,” Council Member Robert Brown said after Helms’ report. “It was like a pet peeve of mine, because I know at one point, I said, ‘If we can’t make money, get rid of it.’ ”
“And we don’t even have to pay rent on the course, the acreage, the value,” Brown added. “So I thank you from the bottom of my heart that you’ve turned this thing around and moved it forward. Because that’s two more assets that we have.”
And yet, not all golf courses are finding success. Weatherwax Golf Course in Middletown will continue to operate until early November, before closing for good. MetroParks of Butler County in September announced it had bought the course and will transform it into a passive-recreational park.
Going against the grain
Why the success?
“We know our market, and we are catering to, I don’t want to say blue-collar, but we want the casual golfer,” Helms said. “We know that four hours is a lot of time to invest to play golf. And then you’re going to pile on and say, ‘OK, you’re going to spend four hours, now you’re going to pay $60 for a round of golf?’ ”
Rather than that approach, “We’re going to stick to our $25 to $35, and hope you buy some beer,” Helms said.
Speaking of beer, “Our concession stands account for about 50 percent of our total profits, which is pretty good, considering we just sell hot dogs and beer, for the most part,” Helms said. “We move a lot of beer there.”
The two courses combined sold 10,130 individual cans of beer, 4,890 six-packs of beer at $12, 8,164 soft drinks, 3,281 hot dogs, and 4,181 weekday lunch specials.
Steve Jurick, executive director of the Miami Valley Golf Association, said Hamilton is wise to focus in on casual golfers.
“As it ties into the municipality, and the parks-and-recreation dynamic, and everybody’s willingness to make everybody healthier, I would say that’s a very commendable position to take, to try to welcome the less traditional golfers onto the property,” Jurick said. Golf is good, low-impact exercise, he said.
The city’s approach goes against what many courses are struggling — and often failing — to do, he said.
“Everybody in the golf industry is basically just driven to say, ‘We want to have better, faster, quicker greens, narrower fairways, higher roughs, longer golf courses, we want things to be as pristine as possible,’” Jurick said. “That really sets a very high bar, and it’s an expectation level that frankly isn’t rational. But we all try to pursue it.”
“So our industry basically pushes us in that direction,” Jurick said. “And for someone to say, ‘You know, we’re not going to pursue it. This is what our standards are going to be, and this is our clientele.’ Knowing who they are is huge. Most golf facilities have a hard time coming to that conclusion.”
Given that they don’t try to compete with the elite courses, Potter’s Park and Twin Run both get good reviews as fun places to play.
Cincinnatigolfcourseguide.com has good things to say about Twin Run in particular.
“Twin Run, a municipal golf course of the City of Hamilton, is a fun and challenging course to play,” according to the website. “Most of the fairways are ‘user friendly,’ but some require an accurate shot. The course is well maintained and is one of the best golf values in the tri-state.”
Todd Johnson, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Golf Association, and a golf coach at Lebanon High School, says: “Potter’s always been a fun little golf course.”
City Manager Joshua Smith sees a bright future.
“I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can be doing, even at the golf courses,” Smith said. “I think with more investment in the bathrooms, the facilities, I think there’s an opportunity at one or both to enhance the food menu that will hopefully draw even more people out, maybe even non-golfers out to use the facility, more from a restaurant perspective. But I think we certainly have those opportunities to keep adding to the bottom line.”