March 20, 2017

Central Mass. golf courses adapt to changing demands

David Frem has Cyprian Keyes found efficiencies to combat increasing costs like rising minimum wage, such as scheduling three events in one day to make the best use of his restaurant staff's time.

Back in the late 1990s, with a strong economy and the huge Baby Boomer generation edging closer to retirement, the the golf industry was bullish.

"They said there's so much pent-up demand that we could build a course a day to keep up," said David Frem, general manager of Cyprian Keyes Golf Club in Boylston. "The joke in the industry is, unfortunately, that happened."

Indeed, the number of golf courses has grown since the turn of the 21st century. Meanwhile, Frem said, demand didn't rise as expected. Economic downturns cut into players' disposable income, and the Great Recession caused many Boomers to put off their retirement plans.

Keeping prices down

Massachusetts golfing was a $1.7-billion industry in 2012, according to a report commissioned by the Alliance of Massachusetts Golf Organizations. That's as large as the state's semiconductor manufacturing industry and more than half the size of its medical equipment making sector. Including indirect economic effects like purchases golf operators make from vendors and spending by golf course employees, the total economic impact was $2.7 billion, along with 25,000 jobs.

"Without a doubt, challenges exist, but golf is still extremely strong," Frem said.

At Cyprian Keyes, he said, maintaining that strength demands new strategies. In addition to its 18-hole championship course, it offers a full-service restaurant, a golf school, and a nine-hole, par-three course that appeals to both new golfers and busy players who want to squeeze in a quick game before work.

Another part of the company's strategy has been to reduce membership costs and greens fees from 10 years ago.

"That's a very dangerous thing for a business to do," he said. "But we've found those initiatives have worked."

Finding new bread and butter

Daniel Weadock, president and CEO of the International Golf Club and Resort in Bolton, said his business makes its money not just from memberships and rounds of golf but from acting as a venue, hosting corporate events, fundraisers and weddings.

"Events are really now becoming the bread and butter," Weadock said. "My economic driver has really become food and beverage."

The International boasts a 50-room hotel, conference center, restaurant and dining rooms for private functions.

Weadock said the golf side of the business is evolving, too. Aside from economic shocks over the past two decades, he said other factors affecting golfing included the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002, which limited corporations' ability to treat clients to fancy golf trips, as well as a broader cultural shift.

Redefinting exclusivity

Weadock said younger golfers today sometimes bristle at the idea of a closed-off, exclusive club. In recent years, he said, he's tried to open the club up, accepting people from a variety of backgrounds without demanding they go to dinner with a group of other club members to make sure they fit in.

"I had to explain to the old guard that we're trying to redefine exclusivity," he said, adding it isn't about who's in, but providing a luxury to more people.

"If you've got a lot of rich people who are willing to support a private club, that's great," he said. "For sort of the rest of the world, the private club world is definitely getting pinched."


Type your comment here:

Today's Poll Which MetroWest town are you most likely to visit for shopping or dining?<>
Most Popular on Facebook
Most Popular on Twitter
Copyright 2017 New England Business Media