SAILING SHIP"Think of a golf course as a three-masted sailing ship. It takes time to learn how the ship handles in winds and waves, and how it reacts with light and heavy cargos. An inexperienced captain might under or overreact until he gets the feel of how she handles. Take over a golf course the way you take over a big sailing ship. Observe, listen, and 'feel' before you act." Mike Kahn




  1. Don't make promises to customers, employees, or suppliers
  2. Don't buy anything you don't need
  3. Don't make negative remarks about the previous owner
  4. Don't change the menu - yet
  5. Don't change any fees or prices until you've completed a thorough study
  6. Don't discount knowledge and advice from employees who have been there a while
  7. Don't change business hours
  8. Don't get trapped in meetings with groups - employees, members

I've been around for many years in this business and I keep seeing the same mistakes, buyer after buyer. Even though they tell me they're committed to business the 'romance factor' always overcomes first-time golf course owners. I see it with decisions made in the first days or weeks of ownership.

I suggest doing nothing dramatic until you've been on the property for at least a month!

A golf course is a very complex property made up of thousands of components. It's a combination agricultural, recreational GOLF COURSE, restaurant, retail merchandise, and service business (not to mention swimming pools, tennis courts, fitness centers, etc.). Unless it's a brand new golf course, certain habits and activities have settled in for each of these departments -some good, some bad. These will be basically customer, service, maintenance, and supply habits. You also need to become familiar with past business practices and maintenance habits. In my experience, the components of a golf course have settled into their own routines via a natural selective process - good and bad. I believe it takes several months to identify, understand, and become familiar with most (not all) of the behaviors of each component.

I highly recommend against making changes to any of the following until you have had reasonable time to study them:

STUDY: The Golf Course - greens (grasses), fairways (grasses), tee boxes (grasses), rough areas (grasses), sand bunkers, practice range, practice green, other practice facilities, drainage patterns and issues, irrigation system and issues, pest and infestation issues, machinery and equipment situation, maintenance facility, employees and employee behaviors.

STUDY: The Clubhouse and Amenities - General Conditioning and Maintenance Procedures: player service areas, first (and tenth) tee location, pro shop, washrooms and locker rooms, club storage, offices, kitchen, food service areas, liquor serving and storage, storage areas and issues, furnishings and fixtures infrastructure supports (heating, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, phones, cable TV), landscaping and staffing requirements.

STUDY: Service and Fees - all fees and dues, menus and prices, retail merchandise, service habits, employee behaviors, quality efforts.

STUDY: Business Practices - point-of-sale systems, customer information, cash reporting and recording, member billing, marketing, supply and services relations, neighborhood relations, employee relations.

STUDY: Customers and Competition - customer base and behaviors, basic service behaviors, customer loyalty base, market service area, materially significant competitors.


GOLF ARCHITECT DRAWINGMaking changes to a golf course operation for the sake of change may do more harm than good to the business. Remember, we are all creatures of habit and even very small changes can be received in a negative way. Obviously, immediately raising prices won't cause a 'warm-and-fuzzy' customer relationship with the new owner. Neither will discontinuing services customers have come to expect and rely upon. However, there are a few improvements one can make customers recognize and appreciate - getting the relationship off in the right direction:

Fix Eyesores: You will see things around the property the previous owner has neglected, or hasn't seen in years (problems that 'disappear' in time if not fixed immediately). It may be a faded sign, a cracked window pane, a weedy bunker, a pothole on a cart path, or even a wobbling table in the grillroom. Fix them, because you need to make the repairs anyway.

Clean it up. Make it smell nice: Areas I find always need attention are the washrooms. You might improve a bad odor, spotlessly clean the commodes, or repaint the room.

Fix it! You're sure to find doors that don't properly close, dry ball washers, carts with poor brakes, or poor service behaviors.

Change the display: A complete makeover of the pro shop merchandise display will cause a pleasant reaction from customers - even stimulate sales.

Fixing Broken Items - Serves Two Purposes: I've seen new owners gain an immediate positive response by fixing long broken items somewhere around the property (visible, of course). It may be a bunker that wouldn't drain, or an annoying bump on a cart path. It serves two purposes: 1) improves customer relations; 2) it's a repair that needs to be done anyway.

Add Little Inexpensive Touches: It's an old tactic, but a touch of fresh paint, fresh flowers, or new beer glasses will be noticed by longtime customers. The previous owner must have had some level of goodwill (or there wouldn't have been any customers). Making changes that might insult the previous owner will also insult his/her loyal customers, which are now your customers.

Employee Behaviors: You will undoubtedly want to show your customers that as new owners you will improve service. Service comes from your employees. Keep in mind that asking employees to do more (work) than they did under the previous owner - unless a raise in pay comes with it - won't be very well received. Best to watch employees and learn who are the producers and who are not before planning changes in their work habits.


You really don't know what the business really needs until you've been in possession of the property for a reasonable time. I believe it takes up to three months to fully understand the 'personality' of the property, the market, and the customers you have. Except for the deferred maintenance items you identified during your diligence, you should sit tight before making any 'directional' business decisions, or making commitments to employees, suppliers, or services. Even deferred issues you may have planned might be delayed until you've had time to re-address them as the owner.


Don't trap yourself in meetings or forums with customers or employee groups. There can be a tendency to say and represent things to a large group of people that you'll regret later. As their new owner you want them to hear good things, but you shouldn't indicate any substantial commitments until you've learned to handle the 'ship' in all waters. This avoidance applies to members, employees, local clubs and associations, or any groups of more than three or four people.


NO GENERAL STAFF MEETINGS UNTIL YOU KNOW EACH EMPLOYEE. Don't hold general staff meetings until after you have met each of them individually (or discussed them with their department managers). Employees in service and maintenance areas often work closely together and 'talk' amongst themselves. When meeting their peers in groups they'll have more nerve than when meeting one-on-one with management. Expect questions about policies, privileges, and wages. That's when you are most likely to 'box' yourself with responses simply to satisfy the ears of an interest group.


GOLFMAK GOLFEROne mistake I see too often is an owner making promises before having sufficient experience with the business and the golf course. Without familiarity with the property, the customer base, and the business for a reasonable time it is foolhardy to make promises without knowledge. Undelivered promises will come back to haunt ownership and become the seed for a cold war between customers, employees and ownership.

Focus on the Quality and 'Finish' of the Golf Course: You'll never go wrong by improving the quality and finish of the golf course. Focus on all the frequented playing areas - greens, tees, fairways, bunkers and roughs. Make it greener. Cut the roughs for higher handicap players. Start grooming the traps on Sundays (no one ever does and I hate that).

Don't Chicken Out: Too often new owners initially commit to improvements, wage increases, new equipment, etc., and back off when they don't see immediate results. I have never seen a golf course fail to attract its fair share of play with happy employees and a topnotch product. However, it takes time to turn out a great playing field and build that loyal customer base we all talk about. Grass takes time to grow. Customers take time to build. Giving up too soon will only cause disappointment and could result in a financial loss.

My Business: Helping new golf course owners is part of my business. By purchasing a golf course with us as your agent, you have true golf course management experience on your team.

Call for a free consultation: 941-739-3990

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