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July 2014

Sense of Place

Sense of PlaceBy Steve Donahue

Despite boasting a tony address, Alan Costa and Sean Oberly work to ensure Miacomet Golf Course remains a gem accessible to golfers of all income brackets 

Search far and wide, and you’ll find it difficult to locate another facility quite like Miacomet Golf Course. For starters, Miacomet is the only 18-hole public layout on Nantucket, an idyllic, rich-and-famous island retreat located off Massachusetts’ Cape Cod coast. Then, there’s the clientele. Forbes 500 billionaires share Miacomet’s tee sheet with everyday golfers, including some of whom designed, built and painted their fellow players’ mansions.

“We could sell out to the wealthy if we wanted to,” says Alan Costa, president of NGM, Inc., a management company that operates Miacomet and the island’s public nine-hole Old Sconset Golf Course, which opened in 1894. “We could jack up rates ridiculously high in summer, which would eliminate the regular players and residents who play here, but we don’t because giving everybody an opportunity to play here works for us.”

The membership rolls of Nantucket’s two exclusive, private courses—Sankaty Head and Nantucket Golf Club—are teeming with movers and shakers, but the fact so many of them also frequent Miacomet is telling. The linksy, windblown Howard Mauer design is located one mile from the ocean. Mauer added nine new holes to Miacomet’s original nine in 2003, then, five years later, renovated the original nine to create an architecturally cohesive layout.

“We obviously don’t compete with the two private clubs here,” says Costa, “but their members play here a lot because they love it so much. There are some big guns, including major U.S. political figures, who tell us we have the best greens not only on the island but in the country.”

Miacomet can handle 300 rounds daily in July and August, with tee times nine minutes apart, and stay booked from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m. Last year, the course averaged between 247 and 280 players daily, so the tee sheet was “87 [percent] to 97 percent filled,” Costa says. In fact, Miacomet’s rounds played rose 2 percent to 23,000 in 2013, impressive numbers given its unique variety of customers.

“The biggest challenge is keeping the course available to everyone,” Costa says. “We offer resident discounts to ensure residents can play affordable golf, and we preserve tee times for vacationers to ensure they have equal access. If we didn’t split the tee sheet, vacationers would be hard-pressed to get a tee time in the busy summer season.”

Vacationers boost Miacomet’s bottom line in other ways as well. The course does a brisk club rental business, charging $50 per set. In 2013, this line item generated $47,000 in revenue. Growing the game has also proven effective for growing the top line. Miacomet runs three junior clinics from early June to Labor Day, and approximately 60 kids participate at $250 each per clinic. In 2013, the Get Golf Ready program attracted 100 participants while generating $8,000 in revenue, and various adult clinics accounted for $6,720 in business.

Although Miacomet enjoys a picturesque setting, space constraints prevent management from hosting weddings. However, the facility held more than 40 special events last year, which added approximately $80,000 to the coffers.

Despite Nantucket’s vulnerability to inclement weather—particularly this past winter’s multiple heavy snowstorms—the course can accommodate play virtually year-round, thanks to salty air and a sand-based soil that aids drainage. “Mother Nature changes every day, all the time,” says superintendent Sean Oberly, who also serves as vice president of NGM. “So we have to be able to adapt every day.”

Not surprisingly, the environment comes first on Nantucket. Management has implemented a comprehensive recycling program and adheres to numerous maintenance restrictions, including strict best management guidelines on fertilizer application. Given that groundwater is a sole-source aquifier on Nantucket, Miacomet officials must also test annually for nitrogen, phosphorus and any chemical compounds used.

“Everything we do could have an impact on the groundwater,” says Costa, “so with every decision we have, the groundwater comes first.”

In the end, Mother Nature plays as much of a role in what makes Miacomet special as its business plan. “It’s golf at its purest—golf how it was meant to be played,” Oberly says. “When you stop and realize where you are, it makes you realize quickly it’s a really special place.”


Steve Donahue is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.


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