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August 2021

Boyne Highlands Resort

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Welcoming Change, Present and Future

By Sally J. Sportsman

At Boyne Highlands Resort, in Harbor Springs, Michigan, there is enough light for golfers to play until 10:00 p.m. in June and July. At this nationally-recognized golf and ski resort in the heart of northern Michigan, golf doesn’t play second fiddle.

“Forty-five years ago, I was the head golf pro at Boyne Mountain,” said Bernie Friedrich, PGA, senior vice president of golf operations and resort sales at Boyne Highlands Resort. “We had one golf course and charged $18 for a green fee and a cart.

“Today, golf is plentiful and in demand throughout the season. The courses at Boyne Highlands are magnificent.”

In fact, The Heather was named the 2019 NGCOA Course of the Year. At Boyne Highlands, golfers also can play the Arthur Hills, Donald Ross Memorial and The Moor courses.

The Boyne golf story began in the mid-50s when ski industry pioneer Everett Kircher developed a nine-hole course to attract summer business and retain staff at Boyne Mountain Resort. With the vision of taking golf to a new level when he developed Boyne Highlands in 1963, Kircher hired Robert Trent Jones Sr. to design The Heather, which opened for play in 1966.

In recent years, the leadership at Boyne Highlands Resort has been working diligently to make it a national golf destination. In spring of 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, The Heather was opened for walkers, who mostly consisted of resort club members at that time. NGCOA guidelines were followed throughout the year, such as no rakes and no ball washers. The Boyne Highlands Hotel did not open until June; lost business extended through April, May and most of June.

“Even so, 2020 was the best year we’ve ever had,” Friedrich said. “Although rounds were down 3.5 % during those months, we picked up in July, August, September and October.

“We cut our labor expenses by 18% last year and overall expenses by 26% the whole year.”

Boyne Highlands was one of the first golf operators to implement dynamic pricing, according to Friedrich. Revenue per round increased 8.5 % last year, and profitability has risen every year since 2015, when the resort began using dynamic pricing.

Boyne Highlands is close to the Canadian border; Canadians usually account for 15% of rounds at the resort. The border has been closed, though, due to the pandemic.

“We hear from them routinely; they can’t wait to get back here,” said Friedrich. “We have been able to fill those tee times with other golfers, though.

“The greatest surprise of 2020 was more women, juniors and families playing together. It was great to see, all over the country, and I hope it sticks.

“We all have to do everything in our power to make it stick.”

One strategic change at Boyne Highlands over the past two years at each golf course has been creating a staging area, divided into smaller sections for everyone’s personal safety. Carts are kept in the members’ parking lot. The maintenance crew comes in earlier each day, with assignments given outdoors every 15 minutes.

Among maintenance changes has been placing one tee marker instead of the usual two on the six tee areas on each golf hole – next to the tee deck, in the rough – a time saver. The staff member doesn’t have to get off the mower to move the markers. This practice does not affect golfers and makes mowing much faster.

“We plan to stick with this strategy post-Covid,” said Friedrich. “Golfers didn’t even notice it.”

On the maintenance expense side, the resort went to granular fertilizer instead of liquid fertilizer, as it lasts longer and requires less frequent application, according to Friedrich. This year greens are being rolled three days a week instead of five, with plans to revert to five later this year, if possible.

Scheduling strategies also have been adjusted due to the pandemic. Since many golfers work from home or their hotel rooms in the mornings, there is more play later in the day, resulting in the need for creative staff scheduling.

Inventory practices have been affected, too.

“We thought we’d have no golfers, so we cancelled most of our orders of soft goods and hard goods, except golf balls,” Friedrich said. “Beginning in July 2020, we couldn’t get merchandise; it was a supply issue.

“Now we anticipate going back to pre-Covid supplies beginning this summer.”

Friedrich observed that what Covid has taught him and his staff is that their clientele didn’t notice daily practices and details as much as they did.

“We meet in small groups to look at every part of our operations to see what to keep and what to change,” said Friedrich. “It’s fascinating, and might be a practice we continue.

“For example, golfers now reserve their tee times online and prepay. Controlling our tee time inventory and pricing is critical for us.”

Michigan has become a golf destination in recent years, with over 700 courses in the state. Competition is lively and green fees are fairly reasonable compared to the rest of the country.

“It will be a new normal for everyone,” Friedrich said. “Every business will operate differently.

“Beyond revenue, we strive to keep our customers and everyone’s well-being in mind. Everything we do affects people’s feelings about being personally valued more than before, and that includes both employees and customers.”

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