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March 2017

Extreme Course Makeover

extremecoursemakeover.jpg‭By Steve Eubanks

CSC Golf Management has renovated and rebranded much more than just distressed golf properties. The California-based company has also made sure to transform itself in an ever-changing environment

With all the recent talk about golf needing to reinvent itself–“rebranding” seems to be the hottest buzzword of 2017–operators don’t need to look far to find examples of modern-day reinvention. The people at one California management company haven’t only rebranded their clubs, but also invented themselves.

Mark Stevens, a PGA member who has been in the golf business for 30 years, didn’t intend for CSC Golf Management to go through a transformation. But, then again, very few in golf foresaw the changes the industry has endured in the last decade.

“We didn’t expect to become [distressed property] workout specialists; we didn’t set out to become rebranding specialists, or renovation specialists, but that’s what the business and the market demanded so that’s what we did,” Stevens says of his San Diego-based company that is currently operating five projects in Southern California.

“For years, we managed courses for one owner, one family, the Corky McMillin Companies,” he notes. In fact, Rick Ray, McMillin’s son-in-law, was Stevens’ management partner before the developer decided to get out of golf (McMillin, himself, died of a heart attack in 2005 at age 76).  “We had to transition,” Stevens says.

But being nimble isn’t as easy as it sounds. By getting the McMillin courses ready to sell, Stevens was, in essence, working himself out of a job. That’s when he discovered an opportunity to rebrand one of the most active and well-known golf facilities in San Diego County.

The nine-hole, par-three Sail Ho Golf Course, located on Point Loma in downtown San Diego, had been part of the Naval Training Center since 1923. When the training center shut down in 1997, the course fell into flux.

“The City of San Diego had (the golf course), and I saw it as a great opportunity to rebrand a classic facility,” Stevens recalls. “We developed a terrific restaurant and bar with outdoor seating and an area for live music. The facility stopped being a nine-hole, par-3 golf course with some food and beverage and started being a great restaurant and bar in a great location that just happened to have a nine-hole par-3 course attached.”

CSC renamed it The Loma Club. “In 1917, the area was the Point Loma Country Club,” Stevens explains. “So we purchased historical photos from the San Diego Historical Society and hung them on the walls of the restaurant. People called it the Loma Club back then. So, we completely rebranded the facility and took it back to a historical theme.”

Then Stevens fell into another opportunity. CSC had managed a beautiful 18-hole course in Elsinore called the Links at Summerly for McMillin. In 2013, that course and another one called Glen Ivy Golf Club near Corona, were purchased by Kingdom Capital. Less than a year later, the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice seized all the assets of Kingdom Capital, alleging that the company was a front for an elaborate financial scam.

“I had no reason to believe that we’d end up back at the Links at Summerly,” Stevens says. “But we were perfectly positioned to manage not only that facility, but also Glen Ivy for the federal court-appointed receiver.”

Management for the court extended into management for the new owners. Stevens was able to parlay that experience into management of a couple of additional clubs recently acquired by new owners.

“Moreno Valley Ranch [Golf Club, in Moreno Valley, California] was purchased by developers who plan to build apartments on the [old] driving range,” he says. “But they promised the community that not a single stick of the apartments would go up until the golf course had a solution.

“We’re now working with an architect on what will be some extensive renovations,” he continues. “It needs a pretty dramatic facelift. We will probably rebrand it and change the name of the golf course to get some new marketing cachet after that [work is complete].”

CSC also manages Borrego Springs Golf and Resort in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains for a new owner out of Atlanta. “They have some tremendous plans for the property,” Stevens boasts. “We’re very excited about executing those.”

Five years ago, he never could have imagined working with the Justice Department or the Base Closure Commission, but those are the sorts of reactive modifications that have allowed CSC to grow in a tough market. And they illustrate the kind of malleability required to succeed in today’s business environment.

“This is certainly a new phase in my career,” Stevens admits. “We’ve changed. We’ve had to change. But what has remained consistent is our commitment to the local clientele we serve at each and every club.”

Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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