By Katy Savage
KILLINGTON—It’s been a year since the town hired a third-party company to manage the struggling Green Mountain National Golf Course and improvements are slowly underway.
Brown Golf Management LLC, based in South Carolina, was hired under a 3-year $342,000 contract last spring to bring an arsenal of digital marketing initiatives to drive up revenue, as the course is carrying about $2 million in debt.
“We are making progress and I think this year we were finally making some changes and investing in capital,” said Town Manager Chet Hagenbarth. “Things are looking much more positive than they were.”
The town recently made about $372,000 in payments to reduce the debt as a $1.4 million balloon payment becomes due next year.
“It’s a matter of stabilization,” Hagenbarth said. “We have to get revenue back up.”
Brown Golf is focusing on social media and digital marketing to attract new golfers.
“We are actively trying to build that social media and online footprint,”said Brown Golf Regional Manager Justin Stezin at an annual presentation at the course Thursday, June 12.
Green Mountain National currently has about 1,800 Facebook followers and 418 Instagram followers. Brown Golf launched a new website this year and recently introduced new technology to make booking tee times easier. Members can now book a tee time by texting a number on their cell phones.
“We’re trying to work toward conveniences,” Stezin said.
Brown manages 28 golf courses, including three municipal courses, in seven states. The company has about 150,000 email contacts and 20,000 text message contacts to entice more people to golf.
Running a golf course isn’t without challenges, however. About 205 U.S. golf courses closed in 2017, according to the National Golf Foundation. Some attribute the decline to an oversupply of golf courses and the aging demographic.
In its first year of management at Green Mountain National, Brown reported a $66,000 loss in revenue. The golf course brought in about $943,285 through last October, which was down from the previous year’s gross revenue of $1,009,907.
Stezin attributed part of the loss to a decline in the number of rounds played in October due to cold, wet weather.
He previously said there were a total of 14,762 rounds played through October last year, down from 15,433 rounds played the previous year.
Stezin has emphasized a need to protect the current infrastructure.
Brown assessed the course last year and estimated it’s worth about $1.2 million. Brown said the course brings in an estimated $2 million to the local economy each year—a large part of which comes from the American Junior Golf Association Junior Golf Tournament, which brings in children and families from all over the world.
Some improvements have already been made. This spring, the town entered a 5-year lease agreement for 70 new Nexcar golf carts to replace carts that are 10 years old. Brown also recommended a roof update at the club house and furniture replacement at Gracie’s.
“It’s all about exposure,” Stezin said. “That’s what we’ve done, that’s what we want to continue to do.”
Brown also adjusted membership prices last year to attract younger players—a demographic that’s increasingly difficult to entice to the game.
Seven-day memberships cost $998 a season for adults while a 30-and-under pass costs $398 and juniors can play for $149 a year.
“To keep the golf industry engaged, we have to attract the kids,” Head Golf Pro David Bowyer said at the presentation.
Benefits have also been added this year for members, including a 14-day tee time booking window, a free driving range pass, 20 percent off golf merchandise and 10 percent off meals at Gracie’s Grille.
Despite the improvements and marketing efforts,Hagenbarth said the weather needs to cooperate for a successful season.
“We are weather-dependent,” Hagenbarth said.