The public golf course in Edinburgh still depends on property tax dollars to pay its bills and debt but has been losing less money since it went under the town’s management.
Timbergate Golf Course brought in a record $1 million in revenue in 2012, the first full year the town was responsible for managing the course, town council member Ron Hoffman said. The town wants the 18-hole course near Interstate 65 and State Road 252 to be able to make enough money to pay all its expenses.
Business has been picking up because of a new focus on customer service, advertising to attract out-of-town customers and an expanded bar, Hoffman said. After the town took over management and hired a town employee to run the course, golfers have been spending more time in the clubhouse, spending more money at the course and visiting during the winter months because of a bar with golf simulators.
Timbergate had been closed between December and March in past years, but the bar can stay open and continue bringing in money year-round, Hoffman said.
Membership also has grown from about 20 to about 80 members as a result of that push, Hoffman said.
“Our five-year plan is to be profitable,” he said. “We’re getting closer to breaking even and have made an enormous amount of progress in a short time.”
Last year, Timbergate’s operating expenses and debt on its original construction cost the town about $220,000 more than it made from greens fees and other income. But that loss is a significant improvement, since the golf course had been losing an average of $556,000 a year since it opened about a decade ago, manager Wayne Gibbs said.
“Our business continues to grow, and further increases in revenue are expected in coming years,” he said.
Timbergate made about $1 million last year but cost about $1.2 million in operating expenses such as salaries and supplies, including about $240,000 in debt payments for its construction.
Edinburgh built the course in the late 1990s with the hope of getting upscale homes built around it and increasing the amount of taxable property in the town. The hope was that the golf course would earn enough income from memberships, pro shop sales and other fees to pay both expenses and $5.8 million in construction debt.
A hired contractor managed the course for more than a decade and brought in enough money to cover expenses but not the $460,000 annual debt payment that will be owed through 2022. The town had to spend property tax dollars to make up the difference and decided to take over the course’s management in March 2011.
The town cut expenses such as management fees, lawn treatment chemicals and cleaning of the clubhouse. The council hired Gibbs as the manager and pursued ways to boost business, such as by starting a men’s league and selling more memberships. Another focus has been on bringing in more out-of-towners with radio and newspaper ads, Hoffman said.
“We’d like it to be a destination for out-of-town people,” he said. “The more people coming to play here, the better.”
Timbergate management also has been trying to get the people who golf at the Fuzzy Zoeller-designed course to stick around for longer and spend more money. The town spent about $80,000 on improvements, including converting a big room in the clubhouse that had been used to host wedding receptions and other special events into an expanded bar where people can play simulated golf or watch a game on a big-screen television.
Wedding receptions and other events brought in income sporadically and mostly during the summer, Hoffman said. But the bar has proved to be a steady source of income, bringing in more than $100,000 last year.
Banquets and events still take place at the course, but the big room in the clubhouse no longer is reserved solely for them.
“In the past, people didn’t stick around after they played,” Hoffman said. “Now they can go get a cocktail and spend more time at the course.”
Edinburgh will continue to make adjustments but hopes that positive word of mouth will boost business enough that the course will be able to pay its bills, Hoffman said.
Timbergate looks like it could break even sooner than officials had hoped, but that will depend on if the weather’s not too rainy or hot to keep golfers off the links, he said.
“It’s slow progress, but you learn as you get some time under your belt,” he said. “At 21 months, we’re a lot farther than we thought we’d be.”