MARCO ISLAND — While local summer golfers are busy dusting off their clubs in anticipation of cheap play for the next six months, courses and country clubs are knuckling down to a familiar financial grind.
Summer is traditionally something of a business nightmare for most golf clubs and courses because their expenses don’t drop, and they have to find ways to cut them.
The only real downside for the hordes of locals who can’t afford winter rates is the heat, but they usually compromise by getting out around dawn and finishing their games by 11 a.m. to avoid being baked and crisped.
Eagle Lakes general manager and partner Chris Matyn calls sustaining operations during the summer a tricky balancing act.
“The problem for business in the summer is that you have flat or increasing expenses, and the supply and demand equation inverts,” Matyn said. “There’s a ton more supply because a lot of the private clubs open up to the public in summer, so the demand decreases dramatically.”
The only options, he said, are to cut hourly payrolls, as well as have core staff multi-task, even to the point of helping with maintenance.
“The advantage for them in this case is that they become indispensable to us,” Matyn said of the employees.
The logical alternative to low summer revenues would be to close for a few months, he said.
“But you still have to maintain,” he said. “If you closed, you’d have to spend a ton of money later to get in shape for the season.”
With most summer charity card rates hovering between $15 and $35 for rounds that include cart fees (for example, Eagle Lakes is $29 with the St. John Neumann card), Matyn feels that coming up with an outrageously low price wouldn’t really help.
“We’ve had various marketing strategies in previous summers, but plans cost dollars whichever way you look at them,” he said. “After four summers (Eagle Lakes was the former Boyne South) we felt we were throwing good money after bad.”
Fortunately — and despite nine unplayable days caused by the freezing winter weather — Eagle Lakes matched its top and bottom lines compared with the same high-season period in 2009, Matyn said.
“Now it’s a case of bearing down and pushing a stone uphill,” he said. “You get into a defensive posture and do a lot of financial planning, deciding what your needs are. Unless you have a corporate parent with an open checkbook, you have to make the money last.”
Matyn also laments the presence of the PGA discount book, which he said offers discounts off already discounted prices.
“It’s unfathomable,” he said. “It’s the last thing we need, and it’s not driving new business. The players are mostly local anyway.”
Lely Resort Golf & Country Club, which has one private and two public courses, faces similar challenges.
“When our heavy (winter) play goes away, the courses are entering their growing season,” general manager Gary Rogers said. “So the revenue is gone, and you can’t afford to cut the largest variable, which is maintenance.”
Consequently, he said, the priority is to do everything to drive revenue, which indeed includes wooing players.
“The key in the summer, and year-round as well, is the equation: value equals quality divided by price,” Rogers said.
In this regard, Lely offers cheap summer memberships ($300 single and $400 family) that include range use and rounds costing $25 at the two public courses, the Mustang and Flamingo.
These courses will, however, close for maintenance _ the Flamingo in May and the Mustang in July, then again alternatively in August and September for two weeks, Rogers said.
Golfer Johnny Ventura manages to get in a few winter games around town, but plays most of his rounds in summer ... and mostly at Lely.
“I enjoy getting to some of the clubs I normally wouldn’t play,” Ventura said, “but I like Lely because they take care of locals. All summer members get e-mailed about specials, even in winter, so you get deals.”
Ventura said he’s not all that sympathetic with clubs that sing the summer bucks blues.
“They make their own beds,” he said. “They make exorbitant amounts of money in winter. A lot of clubs have created their own (summer) problems.”