Effective master planning can be the key to survival for golf courses


Effective master planning can be the key to survival for golf courses
Sean Dudley
By Ken Moum

Kevin Norby is trying to change the way golf course operators and golf course architects interact.

The owner and senior architect of Herfort Norby Golf Course Architects, Norby, who is based in Chaska, Minnesota, believes that master planning should be more than just architecture.

“In today’s golf market, golf course operators and managers need to look at the entire facility in a more holistic manner,” said Norby. “Although the initial goal might be an architectural statement or reduced maintenance costs, if that’s all you consider, you may be making a mistake.

“Most of our work involves long-range master planning and a good master plan is more than a drawing that shows how to realign a hole or how the bunkers or tees should be repositioned,” he continued. “We dig in and look at the entire golf market and try to understand how the changes we are recommending will affect the financial viability and health of the course.”

According to Norby, sometimes the right thing might be to create a more upscale experience while in other instances, the best thing might be to close nine holes, repurpose the course or soften the course to reposition it into a niche where there is less competition.

“Changes like that and understanding how they affect your niche in the local market can give a course a better chance of surviving financially,” he said. “When starting a new master plan, looking at the course’s business plan is essential. It’s not enough to just do the architectural planning. We want to look at ways to make the golf course a viable enterprise. In today’s golf economy that is even more important than it has been in the past.”

To that end, Norby often works with golf strategist Jim Keegan, the managing principal of Golf Convergence, to integrate a business plan with the architectural plans.

Keegan and Norby conduct a comprehensive business assessment that can include a local market analysis, weather impact analysis, technology integration assessment, financial analysis and customer loyalty surveys. Those and other metrics are combined with the architectural review to produce a facility-wide master plan.

According to Keegan and Norby, a simple formula determines whether a golf course will be financially successful. Providing a customer experience that equals or exceeds the price charged, creates customer loyalty.

This approach is apparently working; Norby and Keegan have recently completed a number of high-profile projects, including studies for the City and County of Denver, the Salt River Indian Community’s Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, and six courses operated by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Norby is also currently working on projects at Braemar Golf Course for the City of Edina, Minnesota and Coal Creek Golf Course for the City of Louisville, Colorado.  

Private clubs aren’t exempt from this kind of planning either. “For private clubs our goal is to identify amenities or architectural changes that will help differentiate the club and make them better able to attract or retain members,” concluded Norby. 

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