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February 2018

Bill Stine the Golf Guy

billstinethegolfguy.jpg‭By Steve Eubanks

Satisfying the golf consumer has been the Stine family edict for almost half a century. That continues today at Cypress Golf Management, where Bill Stine continues to lead the industry in both quality and value

He’s been in the golf business since childhood. Bill Stine’s father, Charley, a former newspaper editor, founded Florida Golfweek magazine (which later became GolfWEEK) in his garage in Winter Haven, Florida, in 1975. Bill and his six siblings lived and breathed the golf industry as their dad and mom, Jackie, a dental hygienist, pooled the family’s savings to get the fledgling magazine off the ground.

More than 40 years later, Bill, whose company, Cypress Golf Management, owns six golf courses and manages another 15, still expresses the same passion for the game that imbued his parent’s home.

“I’ve been doing this since they invented dirt, and I remember when they invented dirt,” Stine said from his Orlando office, not far from where he grew up. “What I’ve learned in 36 years of being in this business is that the size of our company does not matter at all. In fact, the number of clubs we own or manage is never part of our thinking.

“All we care about, the only thing that is important, is that we do right by our customers,” he continued. “At various times, we’ve been as high as No. 3 in the country in terms of (company) size. But how big we were didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now. Doing a good job is all that counts.”

With 21 clubs under management, Stine’s company is above average in size. His team has experience operating and managing 115 courses overall. But Stine would much rather be known for leading the industry in quality and value.

“My partners and I started Cypress Golf Management in 1999 to provide contract maintenance services,” he explains. “We knew that a lot of people understood the revenue side of golf, the marketing and clubhouse-operations side, but they didn’t understand the agronomic side. So, just as many (operators) lost money in food and beverage, they also spent way too much money on maintenance because they didn’t understand it. As a result, they weren’t getting the conditions they needed for the fees they were trying to charge.”

Stine offered a solution, contracting all maintenance services at a time when third-party agronomy contracts were relatively new. The niche became a business, and the business became a booming concern during the Great Recession. “Agronomics played a lot more important role in golf,” Stine recalls. “So many high-end clubs had to bring their pricing down to mid-range levels, and in some cases low levels, because of soft markets. So, getting more bang for your maintenance buck became a really big deal.”

He also saw a shift in philosophy in the industry. “In the 1990s, everybody built these long, ‘championship’ courses, without any real idea what ‘championship’ meant, other than it helped them sell real estate,” Stine says. “Now we’re dealing with courses that are way too long and difficult for the average baby boomer.”

Softening courses while keeping the conditions high has become a top priority for most management companies.

“We talk to people all the time where the number-one thing their members are telling them is, ‘You’ve got to build senior tees.’ Then they want women’s senior tees. That isn’t as simple as just throwing new tees out there and mowing grass,” he notes. “We’re dealing with one course in the Orlando area that just spent a million and a half dollars, shortening the course, taking out bunkers, building new (forward) tees, and widening the fairways. They did all that because the course was just too difficult for people to play.

“The days of (the golf) ego are over,” he adds. “The baby-boomers have gotten into their mid-60s and 70s and they just want to play.”

Stine’s niche now is giving operators a quality golf course that is still aesthetically pleasing without any of the silly frills that drove costs through the roof.

“If you think about it, there were no light fairways mowers until the early 1990s when people started seeing striped fairways at PGA Tour events and checkerboard outfields in baseball,” Stine said. “Just like that, every real estate developer with a golf course wanted striped or checkerboard fairways with defined rough cuts. Thankfully those days are going away. There’s a trend now back toward gang mowers because you can cut grass a lot quicker. You don’t use as much gas; you don’t use as many man-hours; and you don’t have five hydraulic reels with blades you’re trying to keep sharp and in contact.

“At the same time, with a gang mower you’re able to push the fairway out (wider) with one more cut, which is what the golfer really wants. Why do we need a rough cut?  It’s bad enough golfers are going to spray it left and right. Why not give them a good lie? You still have some holdouts who want definition, but if widening fairways makes your course more playable, what’s the problem? As long as we can keep a course in condition where you can play the ball down, having a wider fairway offers a more satisfying round.”

Satisfying the golf consumer has been the Stine family edict for almost half a century. With that history, it’s little wonder Bill Stine’s company has continued to thrive through the industry’s ups and downs.

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

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