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March 2019

Staying Ahead of the Curve


Keeping up with customer interests takes investment

By Sally J. Sportsman

Strategic planning for golf resort renovation is complex and challenging, with a myriad of factors to consider and implement. Creativity and vision are intangible yet critical elements that can make a lasting difference, as many resorts and destinations are discovering.

Florida has seen a recent surge in renovation of golf resorts and destinations. Reunion Resort, in Kissimmee, Florida, is one example.

“We renovated the final two holes of the Nicklaus Course in preparation to build a new clubhouse,” says Kevin Baker, general manager of Reunion Resort.

“We had no clubhouse for this course until now.

“We wanted to ensure the right clubhouse experience.”

The Nicklaus Course, one of three layouts at the resort, opened for play in 2007. During the 2017 renovation, the last two holes were repositioned to place the new 10,000 square-foot clubhouse as close as possible to the 18th hole. Also, some homesites on the 17th and 18th holes were re-portioned, doubling their density to allow more of the original course design to emerge. In addition, the driving range was repositioned to accommodate the new clubhouse.

“It’s not a massive clubhouse,” Baker says, “but it provides beautiful views of the course and is very functional. The fitness area features state-of-the-art equipment and a TV-watching space where you can get a virtual person to help you do exercises.”

The design includes an outdoor patio, a separate smoking area with food options, an open kitchen with barstools from which guests can watch the team cook, televisions arranged with a sports-bar theme, a long community table where people gather to dine or socialize and a glassed-in open area with a sliding door to the outdoors. Numerous wedding ceremonies now take place by the 18th green at the Nicklaus Course.
The restaurants at both Reunion Resort clubhouses are open to the public.
“The public-private balance is a fine line,” says Baker.

“Our goal for 2019 is to add $600,000 to $700,000 to our revenue stream as a result of the new clubhouse, with $1 million the goal for 2020.”


PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is home to five golf courses. The Champion Course, where the 1983 Ryder Cup Matches were held, is the site of the Honda Classic, a PGA Tour event. The course also has hosted the PGA Championship and the Senior PGA Championship.

“To some degree, all five courses have been renovated over the last 10 years or so,” says Jane S. Broderick, PGA master professional, LPGA master professional and director of golf at PGA National Resort & Spa.

Updates made across all the courses included rebuilt bunkers, new turf and irrigation, and expanded tee and green complexes. Extensive spa and tennis renovations also were undertaken. 

“Golf is the heartbeat of the resort,” Broderick says. “In planning renovations, we concentrate on return on investment projections and determining why a capital expense would be worthwhile.”

Several of the courses at PGA National have undergone some degree of renovation more than once.

The main reason for these renovations has been turf health, Broderick says. As courses age, conditions decline, reducing the ability to retain the customer base. Trying to stay modern and “compete with the Joneses” — in other words, other resort courses — can be challenging. Attracting new golfers, including women, while retaining older golfers is a delicate balance. Adding tee boxes and making the courses more playable have been successful strategies. There now are six sets of tees on all five golf courses.

“When we renovated our Champion Course, we lost 7,000 rounds,” says Broderick. “Since it reopened in October, we are seeing on average about a $12 increase per round in rates.

“We now are doing 4,000 a month on the Champion Course, 12 percent higher than in previous years. We expect continued revenue growth as a result of the renovations.”

A calendar milestone can present a prime reason for a golf resort or destination to renovate, as with Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Florida, the site of the Valspar Championship, a PGA Tour event.

Preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020, Innisbrook recently completed renovation work on its South Course, one of four layouts at the property. A total remodel of the interiors of all the resort guest accommodations also is under way and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2019. Amenities and public spaces will not be affected; therefore, guest impact during this time will be minimal. The spa recently was completely rebuilt.

Golf course renovations over the past couple of years have included resurfacing the greens on the North Course with TifEagle Bermuda grass. The firmer, more consistent putting surfaces were such a success that the same thing was done to the South Course greens.

“The South Course was out of service beginning in May of last year,” says Mike Williams, managing director of Innisbrook, “and reopened in November. It is significant that for the first time, we now have the same TifEagle grass on the greens on all four courses.”

Consistent putting surfaces have made “a world of difference” to resort guests, Williams says.
Revenue from the North Course has reflected a significant increase in number of rounds played since the renovation, according to Williams. A similar increase is expected from the South Course.

“We will have done over 110,000 rounds on all four courses in 2018,” says Williams. “That’s up a few percentage points from the year before.”

The renovation projects also included bunker conditioning, general maintenance, clearing of storm canals, and trimming and pruning to reduce shading. Some of the greens were expanded where shrinkage had occurred over the years, now allowing for additional pin placements.

“As we approach our Golden Anniversary celebration, these renovations position us at the top of our competitive set, which we consider to be the finest golf resorts in the Southeast,” Williams says.

Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, North Carolina, is known as the birthplace of North American golf. Starting in the late 19th century with four golf courses designed by Donald Ross, it is now home to nine courses, in addition to a new nine-hole par-3 layout called “The Cradle,” designed by Gil Hanse, which opened in October 2017. Pinehurst Resort has hosted numerous prominent golf championships through the years, including the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup.

A number of strategic new renovation projects throughout the resort have been undertaken with the goal of honoring its history while anticipating the desires of future golfers.

“We are lucky to be an iconic golf resort,” says Tom Pashley, president of Pinehurst Resort & Country Club. “We don’t want to see it as a golf museum but rather as a living, breathing golf experience for the foreseeable future.”

The resort recently purchased Dornoch Cottage, the home that Ross built overlooking Course No. 2, his masterpiece. The goal is to preserve and share Pinehurst’s golf pedigree. The home now is available for group events that provide information about Ross’s work over the years.

Guest rooms at the Carolina Hotel and the Holly Inn were updated and upgraded to confer a modern look while keeping their timeless feel. In addition, The Manor Inn, in the Village of Pinehurst, is receiving a total renovation, closing in November 2018 and scheduled to reopen in July 2019. The room size was expanded by 10 percent at all the resort’s hotels.

The new putting course, Thistle Dhu, is situated in front of the main clubhouse by the famous Putter Boy statue. Reminiscent of the legendary Himalayas Course at The Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland, the 18-hole putting layout is free to resort guests.

Restoration of several of the golf courses at Pinehurst has been central to the renewal process. The kickstart was the Coore & Crenshaw restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 from 2010-11.

Perhaps the most highly anticipated project was the restoration by Gil Hanse of No. 4. The course was closed for a full year, reopening in October of 2018. Resort guests and members played the other courses during this time, “leading to some compaction,” Pashley says. “The most popular courses have been Numbers 2, 4 and 8, so to taking Number 4 out of the mix was a concern.

“We thought that closing one of our most popular courses might lead to a downturn in visitation, but it didn’t work that way,” says Pashley. “We actually showed growth over 2017.”

The impetus for the restoration of No. 4, according to Pashley, was to have a golf course that better and more naturally reflects the sand hills of North Carolina and be a better companion to No. 2.

Another example of creative renewal at Pinehurst Resort was the construction of Pinehurst Brewing Co., a microbrewery and restaurant that opened in summer of 2018. It was built on the site of the Village of Pinehurst’s original Steam Plant. 

“We have found the formula that works for us is to be true to our roots,” Pashley says. “We are known for our history, so we embrace and embellish that.

“We try to be as local as possible. Whatever you are known for, whatever you can own – find ways to highlight it.”

Sally J. Sportsman is an Orlando, Florida-based freelance golf writer.


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March 2019 Issue

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