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July 2019

Final Thoughts with Elaine Gebhardt

Elaine Gebhardt
Executive Director
New England Golf Course Owners Association
Norton, Massachusetts

What makes owning a golf course in New England unique? 

The golf season can be very different depending on where you are in New England. Courses along Cape Cod, Rhode Island and the Connecticut shoreline can be open for 12 months of the year – some years. Other years they can be closed from December to March. Meanwhile, head to northern Maine or ski country and we are talking about a much shorter season – maybe as short as three months. The unknowns of what the weather will bring us can play heavily on staffing, programming and course conditions. Hearty New Englanders need to be flexible, thrifty and try to keep their sense of humor. Mother Nature is always looking for the last laugh.

What do you see as the biggest benefit of NEGCOA membership?

Members of the NEGCOA are as varied as their reasons for being a part of the chapter. Some seek cost savings opportunities, while some want to support our legislative efforts. Those who are new owners or next generation operators seek the networking and educational opportunities. The biggest benefits come to those who are active – attend our events, head to national conferences, seek out ways to save on the SmartBuy offers, watch the Accelerate threads, and use our office as a resource.

What’s been the biggest change in the golf industry over the past 10 years? 

Technology. We are competing against it at the same time as we try to find ways to use it successfully. Getting kids off of their devices and onto the golf course has been a challenge. So finding ways to integrate with technology will help us to win them over.  Courses need to welcome tech onto the course and embrace the use of social media to expand their facility community. Notice that I did not say golf community. Our facilities need to be more than just golf and those that evolve in that end will thrive.

Looking ahead, what do you think will be the next change in golf’s evolution?

I still think there is an opportunity for FlingGolf to gain better traction. In my mind, it’s been slow to grow because they don’t have evangelists promoting it at the facilities. So it really has to grow from the consumers asking for it. I’m often surprised when I visit properties and owners/operators haven’t heard of it. … So this isn’t really golf’s evolution, but rather facility usage evolution. Skiing and snowboarding are thriving together – so should golf and FlingGolf!

What is the most difficult hurdle course owners/operators face today? 

Labor and wages. With unemployment so low, finding good qualified workers for seasonal positions is getting tougher and tougher. Add to this the ever rising minimum wages and courses are feeling the pinch. So many seasonal employees in this industry, especially from the golf shop and ranger side of the operation, are simply working to gain golf benefits. Many are retirees and kids in high school. These jobs are going to go away as clubs try to do more with less. Sharing this dilemma with our legislative officials in so important and I encourage our operators to do so.

What is the concern you hear most?  

Lately, legislative issues are a big concern to many – primarily at the state level. With six states in New England, we have a lot to keep track of and currently, we are facing potential negative legislation in several states. Rhode Island wants to add two new taxes to memberships and on services. Connecticut wants to add additional taxes as well. In Maine, local municipalities and towns are looking to restrict the use of pesticides despite the fact it is regulated at the state level and that our superintendents are certified in their applications and are stewards of the environment. We know that it is just a matter of time for an issue in one state to migrate to a neighboring state, so we need to remain vigilant.



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July 2019 Issue

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