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June 2017

Professional Partners

professionalpartners.jpg‭By Steve Eubanks

A trio of PGA Professionals decided that they wanted to work for themselves, so they came together to form Virginia Beach Golf Management with intent to bid on their hometown municipal courses

It’s not unusual for local companies to win bids to manage municipal courses in their hometowns. That happens all the time. It is rare, though, when a group of PGA pros—local men who have worked in a city for years—form a management company for the sole purpose of bidding on those munis.

That’s exactly how Mike Fentress and his partners, fellow PGA pros Andrew Menk and Eddie Luke, began Virginia Beach Golf Management. The three locals pooled their experience and resources to form a management company to bid on the operational contract for three of Virginia Beach’s five courses: Red Wing Lake, Kempsville Greens and Bow Creek Family Golf.

“We all decided we wanted to work for ourselves,” Fentress says. “When the bids for the city courses came up, we decided to put something together.”

Now in the sixth season of a 10-year lease, Fentress and his partners have distinguished themselves by using what no other operators in the area had: decades of public golf experience in their market.

“The thing that’s always separated us and given us an edge is the fact that we’re local,” Fentress explains. “We don’t have the huge corporate structure. We don’t have somebody in a marketing department in another city coming in with ideas that aren’t right for our market.

“All [three] of us grew up together, along with the people who do our maintenance, so we’ve all been together a long time,” he adds. “Because of that, we’re able to do everything [in the operations] ourselves.”

Intimate knowledge of the market allowed Fentress and his partners to increase profitability by lowering prices almost immediately. “Before we took over at Red Wing, they had the rates on the weekend at $58 and $68, resident and non-resident,” Fentress recalls. “We dropped them down to $49, figuring $50 was our threshold. We knew that the yields were off because the prices were too high. The reason we knew that is because we’d lived this market every day. Now, we’re filling [the tee sheet] up.”

This pricing model wasn’t developed by a complex algorithm or a computerized econometric model. It was simply three guys who knew their town and its customers.

“I’m 52 years old now and I turned pro when I was 19, so I’ve seen this area change,” Fentress notes. “But being from here still matters. Everybody knew everybody when I first got in the business. It’s different now. Still, we’ve been in this area our entire lives, so we know this market better than most.”

They know the workforce and its idiosyncrasies, as well. One of the biggest cost-cutting measures the partners instituted was a compressed workday for the maintenance staff.

“We timed out each job, figuring out how long it took to perform each task,” Fentress says. “Because of that, we were able to cut out a good 15 percent in waste. Most of that came in the afternoons.

“When you start early in the mornings, as the maintenance crew does, after those guys break for lunch, they’re only [on the job] for a couple more hours,” he continues. “Other than syringing the greens, not a lot gets done in those final two hours. So, we consolidated everything, getting it all done before lunchtime. It’s made a big difference for us.”

Prices remain reasonable, revenues are up 16 percent across all VBGM’s properties, and expenses are under control. “We’ve worked really hard to make sure we get the best deals on equipment and use it wisely,” Fentress says. Combine all that and Virginia Beach residents are happy while the tee sheets are full. Not bad for three locals who simply wanted to work for themselves.

“Obviously, we’re really glad that we stayed here,” Fentress says. “Things have worked out pretty well all around.”

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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