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September 2019

Getting Technical About It

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Rural Maine course owners create year-round demand

By Sally J. Sportsman

It is rare that a group of golf-loving friends purchases a struggling rural golf course and transforms it into a thriving, bustling community hub. Yet that is precisely what Randall Anderson, Darrick Christopher and four of their business-savvy colleagues did at The Meadows Golf Club in Litchfield, Maine.

Technology proved to be the magic that helped make it happen.

“The funny thing is I knew nothing about running a golf course, pub or retail establishment, but we all know how to run businesses and do effective marketing,” says Anderson.

The six of them had been getting together to play golf over the last 28 years. Having first met while traveling with Up with People, they are from all over the country.

“We are closer than relatives,” Anderson says.

Up with People is an international travel program that empowers young adults to make a difference in the world. It seems that this group of friends, known as the self-named PEAK International, is continuing to display those qualities of leadership and difference-making decades later, in a way none of them could have envisioned. Members of the PEAK ownership group include, in addition to Anderson and Christopher: Michael Schooling, Greg Ronitz-Baker, Daniel Preucil and Berkeley Brean.

The group acquired The Meadows Golf Club in 2017 from the Foster family, which had owned the land since 1924. The club had celebrated its 20th year when PEAK purchased it, carrying on the Foster family legacy. Anderson, 48, who lived two miles from the golf course before the acquisition, serves as general manager, while Christopher, who lives in Colorado, is COO. The course is open to the public but memberships are available.

Litchfield, a town of 2,500 people, is in a remote area of central Maine. The partners figured that it didn’t make sense to operate the facility solely for golf, due to the long Maine winters. During a snowstorm Anderson painted some walls, studied the facility website and determined that a lot of modernization was needed. Sixty new golf carts, at $4,000 each, were one of the first new purchases.

The path the partners chose was to offer a variety of activities at the club, with the popular Doolin’s Pub, presenting above-average pub fare, at the center of it all.

“Our goal is to provide fun, food and friends,” Anderson says. “We do more revenue on the pub side than with golf now. It wasn’t our intention; it just happened.”

Two Full Swing golf simulators installed in the clubhouse in December 2018, at a cost of $60,000 each, are a major attraction – a way for people to “get their golf itch taken care of,” Anderson says. “It’s turned out better than planned.”

One unanticipated result of the simulators is that an increasing number of customers sign up for instruction and club-fitting sessions; many then purchase equipment from the facility – a 95 percent conversion rate. The simulators have resulted in a 16 percent revenue increase so far.

“We never thought this little course would sell golf clubs,” says Anderson. “We now are the top sales site, outside of DICK’S Sporting Goods, in the state of Maine.”

The simulators are booked 85 percent of the time, all year long, with golf and multi-sport gaming, including lacrosse, rugby, ice hockey, soccer, kicking field goals (football), throwing to receivers (football), shooting basketball, zombie dodge ball, cricket and hunting.

“Depending on the week, I’d say three to seven percent of the pubbers play on the simulators,” Anderson says. “We think the ROI will be two-and-a-half years to pay for the simulators.”

The 18-hole golf course has evolved into a multi-use facility. The new owners worked with the superintendent to create bike trails, free to guests in the winter. A winter triathlon this year was highly successful, incorporating a 1.1-mile snowshoe run, followed by a cross-country ski or fat tire bike ride and finishing with a 5k run – all on groomed snow. Fling Golf also is offered, with fundraising and corporate tournament options.
“The activities portion of our plan has taken on a life of its own,” says Anderson. “A lot of people are intimidated by golf but feel comfortable in the clubhouse, having a good time trying out golf on the simulators, hanging out at the pub or doing other activities.”

The out-of-the-starting-blocks success the new owners have enjoyed so far is attributable not only to their hard work, business experience and acumen, but also to their decision early on to join and fully engage with the National Golf Course Owners Association. They attend national business conferences, participate in NGCOA networking and educational events, take advantage of NGCOA partnerships and purchasing opportunities  – all resulting in real growth at The Meadows.

“These are people from outside the industry who know how to make money and manage staff,” says Elaine Gebhardt, executive director of the New England Golf Course Owners Association. “They are open to new ideas, which really helps them in this venture, embracing new types of customers and ways of doing things.”

Knowing that their facility needed to upgrade its operational technology on a number of fronts, Anderson and his partners looked into various platforms before choosing Teesnap. The company manages point-of-sale and full digital services for The Meadows Golf Club. Teesnap helps the course plan, manage and execute multiple technology initiatives, including digital marketing, tee sheets, online booking, inventory, email, customer data, website, online store, social media, paid social advertising, member billing and member management. Teesnap created the new website for The Meadows in conjunction with its software contract with the facility.

“The main essential is that we get involved with the fabric of the golf course,” says Mark Farrow, director of business development for Teesnap, which was founded in 2013 and is based in Las Vegas. “Our software is on iPad, so we are totally mobile.”

This means that The Meadows staff can take payments in the parking lot, walk around the premises and help people wherever needed. Even the starters have iPads.

In addition to the golf-course digital strategies, The Meadows relies on the system to schedule people on the simulators. Simulator customers are segmented separately from golfers for marketing purposes. For example, if some simulator customers have never played The Meadows golf course, they are offered enticements, such as invitations or discounts for evening or weekend play.

The Meadows employs Teesnap’s new price channel management system, where a different price for a round of golf is offered online as compared to a walk-up. This encourages people to go online, resulting in data collection for the facility and less time required for staff to answer phones.

With its multi-pronged utilization of technology, The Meadows Golf Club is setting a new standard in rural Maine.
Anderson and Christian believe that rural communities are under served in the kind of capacity that The Meadows Golf Club represents. They would like to add other 18-hole courses to their portfolio by purchasing facilities in northern New England and running them efficiently, with multiple leisure options for customers.

“We want to stay rural,” Anderson says. “We believe we can help meet the need for enjoyment through golf and many other facility offerings.”

Sally J. Sportsman is an Orlando, Florida-based freelance golf writer.

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