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As I mentioned last month, one of the more interesting presentations I attended at the recent Golf, Inc. conference in San Diego was “Course of the Future” moderated by Forrest Richardson, along with Mark Jackson of Davey Golf, Robert McElreath of ClubCar and Dana Lonn of Toro.

Their focus was on the “marriage” of high tech and design, how technology enhances the entertainment factor of golf and robotics impact on golf course maintenance costs.

Using GPS technology, Marc Davey illustrated how the future may (if not will) see fully autonomous, all electric greens mowers and rough mowers reducing the need for human staff.  He also introduced the concept of drones for observing and mapping problem areas without the need for human visits to all points on the course.  These tools are also electrically powered using lithium batteries thereby reducing energy costs.

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Golf course appraisers are often asked the question, “so, what are golf courses selling for these days?”.  There are all kinds of answers to that question.  There’s one golf course brokerage firm that publishes findings every year on the average sale price of golf courses for the past year.  This can actually be a deceptive metric.  Buyers of golf courses, especially the more active ones will often quote a gross revenue multiple that coincides with their investment objectives and desires.  The Society of Golf Appraisers annually publishes an Investor Survey that provides information on gross revenue multipliers and other metrics that measure the pulse of the industry on certain benchmark indicators like capitalization rates, discount rates, mortgage terms and other indicators.
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The concept of Highest and Best Use is fundamental to real estate.  Highest and best use is defined by the Dictionary of Real Estate Appraisal as “The reasonably probable and legal use of vacant land or an improved property that is physically possible, appropriately supported, financially feasible, and that results in the highest value. The four criteria the highest and best use must meet are legal permissibility, physical possibility, financial feasibility, and maximum productivity. Alternatively, the probable use of land or improved property—specific with respect to the user and timing of the use—that is adequately supported and results in the highest present value.”

I have long advocated that golf courses represent a highly inefficient use of real estate and that where possible, golf courses should maximize the use of their properties, as in my blog post from August 17, 2017.  A key component of this includes an understanding of the uses that are legally permissible.  Unfortunately, the most efficient use isn’t always possible when zoning ordinances restrict or prohibit certain uses.  A case in point is the recent ruling by Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court overturning a lower court decision which had granted a zoning variance and would’ve allowed the development of a bowling facility at a daily-fee golf course in Lebanon, PA.  Interestingly, the action was brought by neighbors, including some members of an adjacent private club, who objected to the bowling facility.

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Among the things we track at GPA are trends in the golf course industry.  I decided to look through our database and do some analysis of regional markets to better understand how our industry is evolving.

This month, we’re focusing on the private club segment in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US.  We’ve queried our database for all the private clubs we’ve surveyed during the past 7 years (back to 2012) in the following states:
  • Pennsylvania
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Maryland
  • Delaware
    This research yielded approximately 500 private clubs surveyed in the region during that period so we broke them down by year to observe some trends.
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