South Dakota city picks company to run public golf courses
By JOE SNEVE
Oct. 30, 2017
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Torrey Pines in San Diego. Augusta National, home to the Masters, in Georgia. And South Dakota's own private golf oasis on the Missouri River, Sutton Bay.
City Hall's pick for its next golf course manager, Landscapes Unlimited, is no stranger to the golf world, having worked on or with some of the most esteemed courses on the planet. And in Sioux Falls, the company helped the city build Prairie Green Golf Course in the '90s, and more recently completed the renovation of Elmwood Golf Course.
But the Lincoln, Nebraska, company, which was founded as a golf course construction and irrigation firm, more recently began building a reputation as a financial rescuer of sorts for public and private golf courses struggling to keep budgets in the black. That's an expertise Sioux Falls officials hope will take the burden of providing public golf off the backs of taxpayers.
In 2015, the 400-member Winchester (Virginia) Country Club was at a crossroads: Close its doors for good or make dramatic changes. Like Sioux Falls, which budgets about $400,000 to keep municipal golf courses running each year, a century-old country club was dealing with years of budgets in the red.
Not ready to give up, the club's board of directors began searching for answers. It found them in Landscapes Unlimited, which today has bolstered membership by nearly 100 and has the Winchester Country Club out of financial dire straits.
"They've stemmed the tide," said Linda Miles, President of the Winchester Country Club Board of Directors. "Prior to them coming on, we had projected to lose a great deal of money. Within three years, we'll be back in the black because of what they're doing for us."
Stories like that have catapulted Landscapes Unlimited's reputation as a leading golf-course manager in the country and world.
And now it has also brought them back to Sioux Falls, tapped by the city's selection committee, to run its three public golf courses for the next five years.
"In every way they were impressive," City Councilor Marshall Selberg said after news broke Landscapes Unlimited was being recommended by City Hall to take over golf course operations.
Selberg was one of six who vetted Landscapes Unlimited and four other firms vying for the city's golf contract, including local companies GreatLIFE and Dakota Golf Management, which has operated the public courses since the mid-1990s.
During the announcement, Selberg and other city officials involved in the selection process said all the candidates were strong, but the decision to go with Landscapes Unlimited was resounding.
"If they weren't the top (in every category), they were tied for it, everything from experience to the fee offer," Selberg told the Argus Leader .
And if you ask industry insiders like Ron Whitten — a former Kansas golf course owner, a golf course architect, and an editor at Golf Digest magazine — Sioux Falls couldn't have made a better pick, especially considering how the city is trying to up its golf game with more high-profile tournaments, a new hotel at Elmwood Golf Course and more golfers moving into the area with the city's population boom.
"Sioux Falls is on the golf map right now, and they're a first-class operation," he said. "That's what you need if you want people to stay at the hotel and play that golf course. It has to look like a country club and feel like a country club every day."
But managing golf courses wasn't always Landscapes Unlimited forte. Though founded in 1976, it was only about a decade ago it got into the third-party management business.
Until then, Landscapes Unlimited was primarily just a golf course construction and irrigation company, continuously expanding its portfolio of courses. It helped the city of Sioux Falls construct the Prairie Green golf course 1991, and more recently it was in Sioux Falls while the city renovated Elmwood over a three-year period.
But when the golf course construction industry slowed in the late 1990s, Landscapes Unlimited founder Bill Kubly began acquiring and constructing golf courses of his own.
"We didn't experiment with anybody else's dollars and we had our concepts and practices well refined before we offered our services to others," said Mark Mattingly, vice president of business development for Landscapes Unlimited. "That was the case until 2007 when we took on our first outside client in Bellevue, Nebraska — the Platteview Country Club."
That country club has been joined by 87 other public and privately owned recreation facilities since then. Today, their active portfolio includes more than 45 golf properties nationwide, as well as locations in Canada and China.
The course in China, Shanqin Bay on Hainin Island, was built and is operated by Landscapes Unlimited, and annually ranks in Golf Digest's Top 100 golf course list. This year it was ranked the 38th best golf course in the world.
That large footprint in both the construction and management side of the golf industry gives Landscapes Unlimited an economy of scale that benefits all of its clients, Mattingly said.
"When you're buying for 50, the pricing is significantly better than when you're buying for one or two," he said. "We have relationships like that all throughout the food and beverage industry, alliances from a merchandising standpoint . a lot of relationships that can be leveraged so we can pass along those saving to our clients."
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com