Managers planning changes after winning city golf course contracts

Changes are in the works for several city-owned golf courses, after the Indianapolis Parks Department agreed to new, 10-year management contracts that are awaiting approval from the City-County Council.

Indy Parks selected two local management firms, Capital City Golf Management and RN Thompson, to oversee operations at four of its 13 golf facilities: Eagle Creek, Smock, Coffin and Riverside Academy.

Capital City will manage Smock, while RN Thompson—which already manages Eagle Creek—will oversee the others. Coffin and Riverside Golf Academy are both currently managed by Indianapolis-based MAN Golf Management, and RN Thompson manages Smock.

Indy Parks Director Linda Broadfoot said the department’s request for proposals for the courses included a request for course managers to “try some new things” in hopes of bringing in a larger and more diverse crowd—minorities and young people, in particular.

IBJ reported in August that IndyParks has been looking to reduce its course numbers in coming years, with planned closures for up to four of its courses.

“We are really trying to bring a new interest to the game,” Broadfoot said. “We asked that the operators [who put in bids] to think about implementing some new programming options, in hopes of finding ways to get people onto the course who normally don’t.”

The city’s golf courses have seen annual revenue fall 9.7% since 2012. And the number of rounds played on those courses annually since 2010 has fallen by nearly 21%.

Ideas for the courses range from hosting free golf clinics to new event spaces, to new game options similar to what TopGolf facilities offer.

For its management of Eagle Creek, Coffin and the Riverside Golf Academy, RN Thompson is expected to make nearly $2 million from green fees, cart fees and concessions. It is expected to spend about $493,000 at the courses on capital improvement projects.

Broadfoot said RN Thompson is required to implement a monthly golf event at the Golf Academy, as well as place GPS tracking devices on the carts for all three courses,  as part of its contract.

Capital City is expected to bring in just more than $1 million in green fees, cart fees and concessions for its management of Smock over the life of the contract. It is expected to invest about $488,000 for capital improvements to the course.

Part of that investment is expected to go toward revitalizing the Smock’s driving range and turning the grounds into more of a gathering space. It also will look to have the course re-certified as a nature preserve through Audubon International’s Cooperative Sanctuary Program. Capital City also might add a putt-putt course and create family golf nights, said Jamaal Diaby, finance director for Indy Parks.

Other plans for improving the four courses have not been finalized, but Diaby said the department hopes to work with the management firms to pin down specifics in the coming months.

“It’s going to take some time,” Diaby said. “But our hope is these things will be in place within the next two years.”

The management companies were selected from six bids submitted through an RFP earlier this year, as the current contracts for the courses expire at the end of 2019. The winning bids were selected in August.

Riverside Golf Course’s contract also expires this year, but the city has said it plans to close the course as it moves forward with an expansion of Riverside Park. The other eight city-owned courses are on contracts that end in 2024.

City-owned golf courses are expected to require more than $27 million in capital spending over the next 20 years, according to a study commissioned by Indy Parks last year.

The new management agreements could be approved by the City-County Council at Monday’s meeting.

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