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May 2021

Independence from Golf Revenue

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The Many Other Ways to Make Money

By Harvey Silverman

We're in the money, we're in the money;
We've got a lot of what it takes to get along!
We're in the money, that sky is sunny,
Old Man Depression you are through, you done us wrong.

That show tune was first performed in 1933 when the U.S. was emerging from the depths of the Great Depression. It's a song I can see sung now by many golf course operators, celebrating their largesse created by the 2020 COVID boom as they prance down the first fairway. It left many course operators with unexpected piles of cash, while over a half million people died in its wake. COVID-19 made golf the country's number-one escape from cabin fever, something the industry should be proud of.

But it's not going to last.

Right now, this minute is when golf course operators should creatively look to expand their businesses with other forms of revenue generation. Maybe no one does that better than brothers Giff and Alan Breed of Independence Golf Club in Richmond, . Imagine if only 37% of your total revenue came from golf (only 37% of Disney's total revenue comes from its theme parks). That's where the Breeds are, and we're fortunate they're willing to share their story.

Let's start with cars. Not golf cars. Lexus automobiles. Maybe you already drive one, which will get you a preferred parking spot in the Independence parking lot. Why? Because Lexus is the most visible of the 40 sponsors recruited by the Breeds. The local Lexus dealership pays a low five-figure annual sponsor fee. And it provides two Lexus UX hybrid SUVs outfitted for use as beverage and player assistance cars. Silently roaming the cart paths, the SUVs garner a tremendous amount of attention and serve to build upon Independence's reputation as the superior golf facility in the Richmond market.

Lexus also shares label space on Independence's own bottled water. And the Lexus View meeting room is one of the most popular in what's known as "The Estate at Independence," which most others call the clubhouse. The 40 sponsors combined produce over $200,000 annually in cash and event prizes.

But wait – the Breeds don't consider their club a "golf facility." They refer to it as an "Experiential Entertainment Center," of which golf on an 18-hole Championship and 9-hole short course are parts of the entertainment experience, including a ropes course and ziplines.

Embedded in the forest of Breed's 300-acre property is the Canopy Adventure Course. Breed has a revenue-sharing agreement with Canopy but really cashes in when its visitors exit the forest hungry and thirsty. Or when corporate team-building events need a place to meet, greet, eat and drink. The Estate at Independence provides all of the amenities on a first-class level, surrounded by the beauty of the golf courses – which just might be the next host of the corporate outing.

Breed's effort to monetize every inch of the 300-acre property is ongoing as new and more creative concepts are formed and implemented. Independence just received a license to grow hemp and grow medical marijuana in a local agricultural partnership. One acre can hold 150,000 plants; water, agricultural supplies, and tools are already onsite used on the golf courses.

Breed is not thinking about growing for recreational use even though it's now legal in the state. But who knows? Maybe growing hemp will become Independence's highest and best use. Yes, pun intended.

It's not expected that Independence Golf Club will become another Yasgur farm despite its regular summer concert series that draws hungry and thirsty ticket-buying crowds listening to various music genres, comedy acts and outdoor movies.  Twelve beers on tap, a brick pizza oven, and ever-changing food and beverage options make Independence a foodie destination, adding to Breed's experiential philosophy.

"Experiential Entertainment" transcends all age groups. A $60 ticket admitted two adults and up to four kids to the Easter "Walk-Thru Petting Zoo" and included a voucher for a family round of golf on the Par-3 Bear course. Tito's Vodka sponsored the Doggie Dash, with five of the $20 registration fees benefitting the Richmond SPCA. Registration included a Tito's Dog Trot bandana so your dog can walk in style and post-walk coffee and doughnuts for Mom and Dad to enjoy. Plus, a Tito's Bloody Mary Bar was available to purchase drinks!

Coming in 2021 are more ways to get locals to visit Independence and enjoy activities that lead to more food and beverage purchases. A pickleball court in the parking lot along with street hockey, a half-court basketball court, cornhole leagues, and space on the range for three-on-three flag football add more experiential entertainment activities to the property. Already established is an art studio, overnight accommodations, fishing pond, podcast studio, a fast-food restaurant for a half-way house and a gamified driving range called, yes, "Top Shack." You gotta love it!

Revenue creativity certainly extends to golf as well. PXG, the premium equipment manufacturer, is a paid sponsor. In the middle of every par-4 and par-5 fairway is a plate marked with the PXG logo and set precisely 301 yards from the back tee. It represents the average driving distance of a PXG Tour staff member. But if a golfer cannot reach the PXG plate from whichever tee is hit from, the plate is a visual hint that maybe moving up a tee is a good idea. Finally, suppose customers take lessons from Independence's teaching pros along with a club fitting. In that case, they can purchase PXG equipment at a significant discount, something PXG supports while its competitors do not.

How much money can Breed make placing QR codes on range balls? He's not sure, but he's going to find out this year. A vendor or sponsor can purchase the QR code placement, which will also appear elsewhere on the property, for a monthly fee. It costs just $1 per dozen to have the range balls printed with the QR code, and the code itself can be updated as needed depending on the length of the advertising contract.

Money makes Breed's world go round (apologies to "Cabaret"). "We want to be a model for other golf facilities looking for creative revenue-generating ideas that embrace Independence for only golf revenue. No doubt, there is a lot to be earned within the game itself, and not every facility can do what we do," says Giff Breed. "My brother and I stepped way outside the box from the day we took possession of Independence Golf Club, and we'll keep pushing boundaries if it means a more successful business serving lots of happy customers.

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