This is a subjective view of the recent article regarding Tony Butler Municipal Golf Course. Subjective, due to the fact that I am a golfer and I have owned and operate Elliott’s Custom Golf in Harlingen for the past 30 plus years.
This gives me a little more insight to issues dealing with golf in our community. (None of the decisionmakers are golfers so they have no way of knowing any of this.) Tony Butler Golf Course history: All RGV golf courses make their money during theWinter Texan season (October through April). Tony Butler is no exception. Their income swells in the season and those funds are somewhat depleted during the summer. Tony Butler had been profitable until about 8 years ago, paying the City of Harlingen a nice fee each year.
So, what happened?
Why is Tony Butler having financial issues?
Fewer Winter Texans?
I will try to address each topic.
Weather: Over the past several years, we have experienced increased rain. When Tony Butler has a “Rain Out Day” during peak season, that’s about $6,000+/- of lost revenue, per day. That means 30 days = $180,000. Several years ago, we lost Fort Brown and MidValley golf courses due to weather.Yes, weather is an issue.
Winter Texans: Our golfing community triples and in some months (February & March) quadruples. Many Winter Texans come here for low cost of living and affordable golf. Let’s encourage their yearly return. Could this be an issue? Maybe, but we have not seen it in our business. We see new faces every year. If there are fewer Winter Texans, there will be fewer golfers, this could be another factor.
Competition: Treasure Hills Golf Course is Tony Butler’s main competitor. They have done an extraordinary job marketing to golfers from Tony Butler. Competition is an issue.
Cost: Equipment cost varies. New, good “package sets” start out about $300, including a bag. Reporter Rick Kelley is correct, you can spend a lot of money on equipment, however, in 30 years I have never sold a $700 driver. Cost to play during the Summer months is $20-$25 and that is 4+ hours of play. Check out the movies or bowling (4 hours) for a cost comparison. This is not an issue.
Course Condition: Tony Butler, along with all RGV courses, have suffered spurts of poor course or greens conditions. These results are from poor management by the “greenskeepers” in charge at the time. Recognizing a potential issue is extremely important. This has not been an issue, but continuous poor conditions will drive your customer base away.
Time Consuming: It takes 4 to 4.5 hours to play 18 holes of golf. A 9 hole round (2 hours) makes more sense to some golfers. Tony Butler has an advantage with 3, 9-hole layouts. This is not an issue.
Marketing: The Treasure Hills management has done an awesome job persuading golfers from Tony Butler to switch courses. One way is by offering larger groups of golfers discounts if they bring their group to Treasure Hills. The “golf play” pie is only so large, all courses are competing to get the largest market share of that pie. Golfers will go to any course in the RGV to play, if the price or deal is right.
Marketing at the course level is not allowed by the city. How did our Commissioners respond to Treasure Hills aggressive marketing? Business as usual, as if nothing was happening. Management hands are tied. No deals can be made. No “Preacher” Mondays, “Veteran” Tuesday, “Burger” Wednesdays, “Hot Dog” Thursdays, “Lucky” Friday or “Free Birthday” round. The marketing is endless. The city has allowed their competitor to pretty much eat their (the city’s) lunch.
Policies: The City Dads in the past year or so have made a few unpopular policy changes.
1. Removal of the snack bar tip jar. This upset many golfing customers.
2. Adding a fee to your purchases if you use a credit card.
3. Expiration date on “Rounds of Golf Purchase” You purchase 25 rounds of golf. Who cares when you use those rounds, you paid for them.
The above policies have aggravated your customer base. All this did was push your customers to other venues.
Tim Elliott, Harlingen