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August 2019

Company Created To Repurpose Golf

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By Steve Eubanks
 
The alternatives have been traditionally bleak. If a course loses money, and no amount of managerial efficiency can turn the red ink to black, owners normally walk away from golf. The property is either sold for development or the course becomes a park or a farm. In the most extreme (and all too familiar) cases, owners simply walk away and the course becomes an abandoned wasteland: forest, fields and stagnant ponds, breeding ground for rats, snakes and mosquitoes.
 
But a Phoenix-based company is now offering an alternative. The Millennium Companies, a golf and real estate firm with extensive experience in development, land planning and real estate law, has found a booming business in repurposing money-losing courses into properties that keep golf in the mix.
 
“A lot of owners of golf properties that are no longer viable, particularly in the public and daily fee areas, find the idea of keeping golf as part of the solution to be very appealing,” said Bob Hobbs Jr., CEO of Millennium. “A lot of times golf is tied to the community. There might be some history there, so there is a concern that if the course closes, a legacy is lost and tension is created between an owner and some of the locals, people they may know.
 
“The challenge, and where we are able to be more creative, is that golf is evolving. The market is changing. In many areas, traditional golf isn’t what consumers want. Couple that with rising maintenance and labor costs and it’s a perfect storm. Golf has to be presented in a way that people want. People want to play two holes, four holes, six holes. The idea of playing 18 holes is overwhelming today.
 
“We create a golf product that is more entertaining – designs where you can putt from 50 or 60 yards back, or where a player who cannot hit the ball very well can play without losing balls. But we also present a fun product for the person who is a golfer but simply wants to get in and out of the golf experience in a shorter period of time.”
 
Hobbs’ group creates new land plans that include retail and residential alternatives. Golf becomes part of that multi-use complex. “We believe in golf,” Hobbs said. “But it has to be the right kind of golf — golf that matches the market, golf that is sustainable and part of an overall land plan that makes sense for everyone.”
 
Hobbs has clients in Tennessee, Texas and Arizona, all of whom are repurposing money-losing golf courses into mixed-use properties. Each has some form of golf in the new plans.
 
“For years, cities were forced to decide between closing courses to save taxpayer money or maintaining them for the limited constituency who utilized them,” said Millennium Chief Land Use Officer Jason Morris, who has worked in land-use law and real estate for more than 25 years. “We will use our combined expertise to offer city leaders flexible solutions that save taxpayer dollars while maintaining golf — but the right kind of golf —at the same time.”
 
“We prefer to work with golf course owners who have not gone out of business, but for whom the handwriting is on the wall,” Hobbs said. “Because once they’ve gone out of business, even though we come in as a third party, neighbors have their guard up and people are generally shell shocked.”
 
There is also a stigma that goes with having built, owned or managed a failed golf facility. So most of Millennium’s clients prefer anonymity.
 
“We are not in this business to say, ‘Hey, look, this golf course was a failure but we came in like a hero and repurposed it,” Hobbs said. “That’s not helpful to anyone.”
 
What is helpful is finding the kind of golf that a market can sustain and converting failing courses into that. On that front, Hobbs and his team seem to have found the perfect niche.
 
Steve Eubanks is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and New York Times bestselling author.

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