Dry winter helping courses generate revenue

Winter is normally a dead time for golf courses in northern Nevada, but this year's dry winter weather allowed regional golf courses to stay open - and build revenue - during a typically dormant period.

The boost in revenues allowed courses to avoid layoffs and keep key employees on staff, as well as put in crucial repair and preparation work on fairways, bunkers and greens in advance of peak months, course executives say.

LakeRidge Golf Course typically shuts down for several weeks in late December through early January, says Becky Wishart, human resources manager, but this year the course was closed for only a few days.

The course did shut down its golf cart service in order to save the dry, brittle grass on the fairways from unnecessary abuse, Wishart says, but it also lowered its greens fees to draw more customers.

"The dry winter helped us make some money, but not as much as we could have if we had some moisture (and continued to rent carts). We were smart about it and didn't get too greedy," she says.

The added winter revenues came at a crucial time for area golf courses - some of which have struggled with red ink.

Jim Kepler, general manager and director of golf for Eagle Valley Golf Course in Carson City, says the dry winter boosted revenues for December, January and February by 70 percent over 2011. March was up only about 10 percent year-over-year, Kepler says, as the typically wet weather returned to the region.

In addition to getting more golfers out, courses were able to keep key staff members employed rather than lay them off, Kepler adds. That helps courses be better positioned for the coming golf season in a number of ways, he says.

"That really helps you move forward for the next year. We were lucky to keep most of our staff. Unfortunately because it is seasonal, you have got between 50 and 60 employees and you go down to four and five in the winter. When you rehire, you have to re-train everyone. Now the customers know them, they know their jobs, and you don't risk losing employees to other jobs or courses."

Peak golf months run from March through October, Kepler says. Since there hasn't been any snow lingering on the ground, maintenance crews are way ahead in getting courses in shape for the spring and summer.

D'Andrea Golf Course closed in early March after losing money year after year, including more than $340,000 last year, the owners said.

"Golf courses are seasonal, and in the winter months it can get hard," Wishart says. "A lot of courses don't have much revenue coming in, and this helped us with a steady cash flow through the winter that we are not used to."

However, the dry December worked in reverse at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, says Marketing Manager Bryan Davis.

Lake Tahoe set a record in 2011 for the driest December in 128 years, and after borrowing a water truck from Harrah's to water dried-out fairways for several weeks, Edgewood was forced to turn its irrigation system back on to hydrate the grass.

"No one here can remember when the last time that happened," Davis says. Lou Eiguren, director of golf at Genoa Lakes Golf Club, agrees that despite the additional revenue - the 36-hole club was up 30 percent in rounds played and 40 percent in projected revenue - it wasn't all good news.

Heavy golf cart traffic on tinder-dry grass broke down the blades of grass to their root level, and Genoa Lakes will have to perform overseeding and additional agronomic practices this spring to revitalize the fairways, Eiguren says. Eiguren shut down the Lakes course in February and opened the Resort course to balance out play.

"It was like a Catch 22 - it was great, and although rates were a little less, any revenue you generate is additional revenue that you normally don't have. But it was so dry we had to take the carts off the fairways. It has got its positives and negatives, that's for sure. The impact of so much play had an affect on turf quality."

Eiguren says much of the increased play at the course in January and February came from vacationers who decided to skip skiing at nearby Heavenly Mountain Resort due to poor snow conditions.


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