* The BSB Design Blog.
Just Damn Good Architecture

‘Profitable Public Golf Course’ is NOT an Oxymoron Says Club Designer Nicholas

By Daniel T. Nicholas

A change in mindset and a ‘revenue-based’ clubhouse redesign can lessen, if not eliminate, the tax burden says award-winning Club Designer, Dan Nicholas, who designed the clubhouses for suburban Chicago’s top two most profitable public courses from the Daily Herald’s recent list (see graphic below).

DHgfx_templateWith nearly two-thirds of suburban Chicago’s mostly municipal public courses ‘in the rough’ according to Daily Herald article, “Suburban golf courses losing money for taxpayers,” the term ‘profitable public golf course’ does seem like an oxymoron.

But with 14 making money, being a profitable course and a public course doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

BSB Club Design Market Leader, Dan Nicholas, says often making a public course profitable has a lot to do with having a “revenue-based” mindset and willingness to take strategic action to generate profit.

“It’s not just offering it that makes you money,” said Wheaton Park District Executive Director Michael Benard. “We operate like a business. We try to do everything like it was our own money, and at the end of the day it boils down to quality of product and quality of service. But it’s a constant state of vigilance to make sure it’s sustainable.”

Arrowhead's now-bustling clubhouse seen from the 9th hole. Photo: Stephen J. Serio It was that mindset that led the Wheaton Park District to do a bold $16-million, taxpayer-footed course renovation that included constructing a ‘swanky, now bustling 50,000-square-foot clubhouse.’  Photo by Stephen J. Serio of Arrowhead’s clubhouse seen from the 9th hole. More images and details: Arrowhead Golf Club project.

So what do the 14 financially successful courses have in common?

The Daily Herald reported, “the way for a municipal golf course to make money doesn’t involve golf at all. The most financially successful taxpayer-supported courses all have booming events operations.”  

prairielanding_weddingBoth DuPage Airport Authority’s Prairie Landing Golf Club ($603,973 in profit 2014) and Wheaton Park District’s Arrowhead Golf Club ($583,699 in profit) have ‘sizeable banquet and restaurant operations that bring in significant revenue.’  Wedding event photo at Prairie Landing Golf Club. More images and details: Prairie Landing Golf Club project.

Nicholas identified three key areas that make the difference between a course being a tax burden and a revenue-generator:

  • Before and after golf: Design a club house where golfers want to arrive early and hang around after – making food, beverage and other purchases.
  • A la carte: Create an environment that draws non-golfing guests in for drinks and dining.
  • Events: Commit to an event operation where events can run simultaneously with golf activities while not detracting from the event guest or golf patron’s experience.

When designing places where people can entertain, relax and play, Nicholas says, “It’s all about getting the greatest ‘return-on-environment.’

Nicholas has practiced in the recreation arena creating award winning Recreation Centers, Aquatic Parks and Golf Course Clubhouse Facilities for nearly 30 years. During this time he has developed a unique blend of creative design with a sound functional, operations background. This combination has established Dan as a recognized leader in Clubhouse and Amenity design resulting in over 200 club-related projects across the country.

For more club design insight or to schedule a ‘first impression analysis,’ contact Dan Nicholas, and visit our Club Design Studio.

About the Author

Daniel T. Nicholas — AIA

Market Leader - Club Design — Chicago

Dan Nicholas helps organizations fully realize their dreams for structured environments where people can entertain, relax and play.