A Cut Above
Brainerd and Brown Acres Golf Courses in Chattanooga, Tenn.
By Emily Tipping
All of this leaves facility directors and parks departments that operate public golf courses wondering, "How can we get things back on course?"
There's a lesson to be learned in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the city's two public golf courses are boasting increases in both attendance/rounds of golf and revenues compared to previous seasons. While golf industry reports by region showed that play in the southeast, central and south Florida, and the Gulf Coast was down by an average of 3.6 percent, comparing 2007 and 2006 peak seasons through April 2007, Brainerd Golf Course and Brown Acres Golf Course in Chattanooga are seeing green.
"This May was the best season on record for Brainerd and the highest numbers for Brown Acres since 1999," said Eddie Taylor, the city's golf director.
Brainerd Golf Course is one of the city's oldest. It features rolling acres, plenty of mature trees and a turn-of-the-century clubhouse. Brown Acres, purchased by the city in 1991, includes a driving range in addition to its challenging 18-hole course, as well as a newly constructed clubhouse.
To understand how its courses are beating the odds, the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department set out to research current trends and lifestyle factors, comparing its courses with the norms. One key differentiator is Chattanooga's outreach to many different potential players.
"The thing that separates the city's public courses from all others is that we are working to provide a quality golf experience for every segment of the public, from youth programs to disabled populations," said Parks and Recreation Department Administrator Larry Zehnder.
As families look to take part in more activities together, their lifestyle demands change. With shrinking budgets and tighter schedules, families are selective about the recreation they take part in.
Chattanooga's public courses address these concerns with special fees for kids 15 and under, as well as tournaments and lessons designed specifically to get kids involved.
Each year, the courses hold "Kids Required" Golf Tournaments, with teams consisting of one adult and one child between 7 and 12 years old. Twenty-five teams competed this past spring at Brown Acres.
Additionally, neighborhood recreation centers around the city provide free golf instruction and play to kids through the "First Tee of Chattanooga" youth development golf program. More than 1,100 children have participated in the program since it was launched in 2000.
In addition to its outreach programs to get kids involved in the game, Chattanooga is also addressing the special needs of individuals with disabilities. The city created a Therapeutic Recreation Division in its parks department in 2000, and Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists now adapt all kinds of activities and sports to allow individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities to take part, including golf.
Finally, while statistics show that the largest market for golf is still made up of retirees, we also know that their lifestyles are changing. More than 3 million baby boomers may have turned 60 in 2006, but that doesn't mean they're on the road to retirement. Many boomers are retiring later or not at all, while others are taking flexible approaches, continuing to work part-time or acting as consultants to their former employers.
In Chattanooga, 40 percent of the golfers are between 19 and 59 years old, while seniors fill out the bulk of the remaining 60 percent of golfers.
"I believe the amount of players in the younger age range is catching up to 'old-timers' because of our convenience and price appeal to everyone's busy lifestyle," Taylor said. And of course, as more retirees have busier schedules and live on tighter budgets, those factors will appeal to them as well.
Finally, there are some factors that appeal to golfers across every age group and every ability: value, personalized service, quality and course conditions.
Taylor said that Chattanooga offers great golf on well-maintained courses—for a nice price. Convenience and easy access are key features of both courses, which have no membership restrictions and are open from dawn to dusk. Anyone can play and reserve a tee-time online or by phone, and same-day reservations are welcome.
Between July 2006 and May 2007, 55,000 rounds of golf were played on the city's public courses—an increase of 13 percent over the same period from 2005 to 2006.
"Even when we experienced a slowdown in participation and changes in the market, we resisted the urge to change our pricing, services or operations," Taylor said. "Maintaining consistency has served us well in terms of customer satisfaction and loyalty."
For Brainerd and Brown Acres, that dedication to consistent service, value and quality has led to a hole-in-one—an increase in rounds played that beats all the trends.