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February 2024

Millennial Management


By Doug McPherson

We know golf is attracting younger players. The National Golf Foundation reports that the category of young adults (18 to 34-year-olds) is golf's biggest customer segment – and 6.2 million people in that age range golfed on a course in 2022.

And now we’re seeing signs that young people are interested in the business of golf. Meet Tyler Luedtke, who in 2022, bought the Crystal Lake Golf Course, a 4,300-yard par 65 executive course, in eastern Wisconsin for $1.6 million at the age of 23 – a born and bred millennial.

Luedtke, now a ripened 25, is busy learning the ropes of course management and looking for ways to bring the course, which has been around for nearly 90 years, into the 21st century.

“When I took over, the course needed some very necessary updates. We’ve invested in … technology, which included taking credit cards and updating the website to be more accessible and customer friendly,” says Luedtke, who grew up near Crystal Lake. “We also made a push to grow our event base and we’ve been staying open in the winter to host parties.”

So how does a millennial-run course differ from a course run by older folks?

“When I was growing up, I felt that golf was expensive and very pretentious. I typically only saw older generations playing the sport and there has been a stigma around the sport to support this,” he says. “I personally have the view that golf is changing, and I think I have a unique position to further contribute to that.”

His vision is to operate as the "poor man's country club."

“By no means do I mean that in a derogatory sense, but rather … I want to provide an upscale experience and upscale level of service that a country club offers, without an upscale country club price.”
One of his first business decisions was replacing carts. He chose to buy, not lease, a fleet.

“I much prefer the buy route for the simple reason that it gives me some flexibility throughout the ownership of the carts. If I want to flip them in a year, I can do that. If I want to hold onto them for 50 years, I can do that, too.”

Luedtke’s goals for 2024 include growing leagues and revenues after dark.

“We have leagues five days a week, but our participation in each varies from 12 to 60-plus people. If we can double down on marketing these opportunities and growing our league base, I strongly feel that we’ll reach some of the targets we’re shooting for in 2024.” 

And to keep more customers at the course later into the evening, Luedtke is looking to expand the course’s already growing glow ball opportunities and booking late-night entertainment.

Despite his plans for growth, Luedtke admits he still faces a difficult challenge – the biggest, he says, is finding the balance between updating and growing the course while trying to preserve its heritage and please the existing customer base.

“While I’m 100% committed to the continuation of that tradition, the trouble I have is making the necessary updates to grow our customer base, becoming a more efficient business and being able to do that while keeping things affordable.”

To do that, he says the key for him – and for any course owner facing similar issues – is to stay flexible.

“I think we can all agree that golf is a very different game today than it was 50 years ago. Apart from leagues, 75% of my clientele are coming to my course not to see who the best is, but rather to have a great time with their buddies or family. Embracing the fun, the music and some of the chaos is a necessary part in growing the game and keeping smaller courses like myself afloat.”


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