Golf courses get short-term upgrades as Park Board ponders long-term options

Grounds repair and renewed focus on marketing and customer service headline changes slated for 2014 season

The 14th fairway at Meadowbrook Golf Course Credit: submitted photo

The Park Board recently began implementing short-term improvements to its golf courses as it works on a long-term plan to return them to financial solvency.

The plan to revamp Minneapolis golf comes after staff spent the last year soliciting feedback from golfers and commissioners received a frank, scathing report from golf course consultant Golf Convergence in February. That report estimated it would take an investment of $34.5 million to get each of Minneapolis’ seven courses back up to its ideal condition.

Park Board Golf Director Sara Ackmann detailed the upgrades that will be made to marketing, customer service and grounds maintenance this season at the April 2 commissioner meeting. Ackmann said the short-term upgrades probably won’t require Minneapolis’ golf program to expand its budget.

“Most of what we’re going to do isn’t going to require additional money … but there may be some instances where we’re going to take a risk and do something with the understanding that it’s going to generate revenue on the back side,” she said.

Park Board Superintendent Jayne Miller said that only short-term improvements have been identified for now, and that options for a more comprehensive long-term plan to shore up the golf courses will be presented to commissioners sometime this summer.

“My expectation is that it’s going to take us a few months internally to work through, analyze and look at the implications for those long-term strategies,” she said.

Golf Convergence recommended repurposing the struggling par 3 course at Fort Snelling and considering leasing out or hiring a management company to run some courses.

Targeted physical improvements

For the first time in several years the Park Board approved a $150,000 capital improvement expenditure to buy three new rough mowers and a large tent that will allow tournaments and corporate events to be held at Gross National Golf Course. Ackmann estimated that the tent will have room to seat about 100 people and that the investment, recommended by Golf Convergence, would pay off quickly.

The new mowers are part of a larger plan to improve course conditions across all courses. Course foreman have already started meeting with Ackmann on a bi-weekly basis and this summer they will begin sharing expertise and equipment to more efficiently use the stretched maintenance budget.

Grinding stumps leftover from trees removed due to summer storms and Emerald Ash Borer infestation will take place at each course all summer long, along with targeted, need-based improvements to drainage systems, bunkers, practice areas and cart paths.

Women’s locker rooms will be renovated at Wirth and Meadowbrook and ball washers and benches will be placed at all forward tees. The lack of amenities at the forward tees was a major gripe of Minneapolis’ female golfers.

“I spent a great deal of time last year listening and I heard loud and clear from female golfers that they don’t always feel welcome at our facilities,” said Ackmann.

Marketing, customer service, and promoting the game

Ackmann stressed that engaging people from a variety of different backgrounds is an important factor in golf’s long-term viability.

“We’re looking at creating some events for families, couples, young singles, all sorts of fun activities to get people excited about golf,” she said. The Park Board drew a crowd when it opened up its driving range and had the Twins game playing over the radio at Columbia on March 29.

“We had a little moment of spring,” said Ackmann.

Staff at every golf course will be required to receive additional customer service training through one of two ‘boot camps’ the Park Board will conduct in an effort to raise customer satisfaction.

Also, the Minneapolis golf twitter account will be more active and responsive this summer, and staff is beginning to plan a centennial celebration for Wirth Golf Course when it turns 100 next year.

Ben Johnson // 612-436-5088 // [email protected] // @johnsonbend