Indiana golf courses seeing revenue increases

The fairways are a little greener in Indiana this spring, as Hoosier golf courses outscore their rivals nationwide for growth in rounds played and revenue.

According to the PGA of America, golf rounds were up nearly 8 percent in April in Indiana over the same period a year ago. Nationally, during that period, rounds were down nearly 2 percent year-over-year.

That’s not the only good news for Indiana golf course operators. Additionally, other key performance indicators such as food-and-beverage revenue (up 32.5 percent) and merchandise revenue (15.1 percent) increased across the state in April, when compared with 2013 data.

Nationally, golf courses only saw a 6.1 percent increase in food and beverage revenue in April compared to the same period in 2013, and merchandise sales was only up 1.4 percent, according to the PGA of America.

Operators contacted this week by IBJ said their golf-related revenue was up more than 5 percent this year, and that food-and-beverage and merchandise sales were up more about 10 percent.

Mike David, the director of Indiana’s PGA section, thinks there are several factors prompting the improvement.

“You’d like to think part of it is that the effort local courses are making to encourage more people to play, and there is more marketing,” David said. “But the reality is we have had very good weather this spring, especially on the weekends, and that plays a big part of it.”

Chip Essig, senior vice president of Indianapolis-based Essig Golf Management, said this past winter was so harsh, it created pent-up demand that started to overflow in late March and April.

“We’re seeing our regular players play more often and also seeing a bit of an influx of new players,” said Essig, whose company  oversees operations at Hickory Stick Golf Club in Greenwood, West Chase Golf Club in Brownsburg and Rolling Meadows Golf Course in Gosport.

While business at many Indiana courses is up compared to last year, Essig said it’s not approaching the numbers seen during the dry, warm 2012 season.

“This is good, but it’s not a record spring by any means,” Essig said.

Despite the fact that David thinks there are some severely overbuilt pockets of the state—including Indianapolis—he is hearing that business this year at Hoosier golf courses is up across the board.

“When the numbers come in, I expect May to be up about 8 percent also,” David said. “And I think a mild, dry summer would keep those numbers trending up. A lot of business, corporate and individual play, is coming back to area golf courses as the economy bounces back.”

Courses across Indiana, led by facilities in Hamilton County, have been making a big push in the last three to five years to attract golfers from out of state. With Indiana becoming a popular destination among golfers from states farther north in the early and middle parts of the spring, that has helped push Indiana's numbers up in the March-April-May stretch.

David is at a loss as to why the food-and-beverage and merchandise revenue is climbing at a higher rate than golf-related revenue.

“I know that March and April are big months in Indiana in terms of selling equipment,” Essig said. “During that part of the spring there are a lot of demo days and other specials. I think overall what you’re seeing is with the economy is that people in Indiana have more time and more money. And that’s been good for the golf industry. In terms of what to expect the rest of this year, I’ve learned not to look past tomorrow.”

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