When a golfer talks about “finding the green,” he’s usually referring to hitting a shot.
Mike Copeland is an operator with the Pine View Golf Course.
By David Sali
In Mike Copeland’s case, though, he means “green” as in money. And he and three business partners are hoping to find it at a place that hasn’t been performing up to par on the balance sheet lately – Pine View Municipal Golf Course.
An Orleans website developer and real-estate entrepreneur, Mr. Copeland and his partners – brothers Don and Glen Costello and longtime golf course developer Stan Brigham – took over the 36-hole course from the city in mid-February. The group signed a lease of up to 20 years with the National Capital Commission, which owns the facility on Blair Road.
Before that, the city had been running Pine View for the past four decades. But the course has been bleeding money for years, racking up an overall debt of about $1.5 million, and when the city announced last August it was ready to hand Pine View over to the private sector, Mr. Copeland jumped at the chance.
“The location, you can’t beat it,” says the avid golfer, who hits the links 40-50 times a year and owns a nine handicap. “I wasn’t interested in owning a golf course for the sake of owning a golf course, but I was very interested in that golf course.”
Intrigued by the challenge, he called up the Costellos, who operate Corporate Golf, a golf co-operative that gives its 2,000 members access to transferable corporate memberships at about 40 local courses, including Pine View.
Mr. Copeland was already a partner with the pair in a Groupon-style company called GolfOn.ca. Mr. Brigham, who knew the brothers through Corporate Golf, also called the Costellos to see if they were interested in taking over the course. The four of them sat down for a chat, and the partnership “kind of came together from there,” Mr. Copeland says.
While Pine View’s numbers don’t look great – its net revenues dropped from about $1.63 million in 2010 to $1.37 million in 2012, according to the NCC – he firmly believes the partners can turn things around. The course has an advantage over most of its competitors simply due to its location, right off the Queensway and just a few kilometres from downtown.
“You can take a bus to that course,” Mr. Copeland says. “You have hop on and off the highway to and from work. At the end of the day, golf is real estate, and the three rules of real estate are location, location, location.”
The fact Pine View has two layouts – a 6,679-yard championship course and a 4,025-yard executive course – also helps its cause, he says.
“The 36 holes is really appealing because it gives you a lot of flexibility to do events and programs like junior camps,” he says. “Junior golf is going to be a big part of our focus. With that extra 18 holes, you can kind of run these programs and events through one (course) or the other, but still have revenue come in on a daily basis of green-fee players.”
However, Mr. Copeland and his partners know it will take more than junior camps to get the course back in the black.
Though the number of rounds played at Pine View jumped from about 23,000 in 2010 to more than 29,000 in 2012, that’s simply not enough, they say.
“If we can get more golfers playing, they will buy more beer, they will rent more power carts, they will buy more gloves and balls in the pro shop and it will go from there,” Mr. Copeland says. “You’ve got to get the golfers back.”
The partners plan to install netted warmup cages before the start of the season and are studying ways of fitting in a full driving range and practice facility down the road.
“One of the things holding them back in the past from being a full facility with the ability to teach and run really in-depth camps is the limited area to hit,” Mr. Copeland says. “We are going to have to look at the footprint and see where we can potentially work that in. We want to make sure the improvements we’re going to make aren’t hurting our customers as we’re trying to make them.”
Coun. Scott Moffatt, who chaired Pine View when it was run by the city, says he thinks the new operators should look at cutting the executive course to nine holes to fit in a full practice facility.
“That’s where you can make your money,” says Mr. Moffatt, a former manager of Anderson Links and the Golf Town outlet at the Ottawa Trainyards. “(Many) people don’t have four hours to spare. But they would have half an hour on a weeknight to come by and hit a bucket of balls.”
The group is also hoping to dig a number of retaining ponds. In the past, the course has used city water to irrigate at a cost of up to $150,000 a year.
“That money would be better spent elsewhere,” says Mr. Copeland. “It’s just been a huge drain on the course to have to pay for water.”
The group has a number of other ideas in mind to boost membership numbers, which have fallen to about 50, such as hosting men’s and women’s nights with prizes for nine- and 18-hole play. The partners also plan to reach out to local businesses in an effort to boost events revenue.
“We’ll do one thing and then we’ll do another, and we’ll decide which worked and what didn’t and we’ll go from there,” Mr. Copeland adds.
One thing they don’t plan on doing, in the short term at least, is raising the price of green fees, which have remained at a peak rate of $38 for the past several years. Mr. Moffatt says that’s a smart strategy.
“It is what it is,” he says of the course. “You’d need to stay around that $40 mark to keep the traffic.”
While he declined to discuss specific revenue targets, Mr. Copeland says he and his partners believe they have a winning plan in place.
“At the end of the day, golf takes time and money,” he says. “Pine View is not very expensive, and it’s pretty close (to downtown). Do you want to drive an hour from Ottawa to golf when there’s an affordable place to golf in the city?”