An approach that emphasizes quality over quantity could lead to an improved golf experience on Jekyll, according to a report created for the Jekyll Island Authority as the island looks to upgrade its golf facilities.
The latest assessment of golf on Jekyll completed by the National Golf Foundation indicates that the island would be better suited to offering a 36-hole golf experience rather than its current 63 holes.
Richard Singer, senior director of consulting services for NGF, presented a draft report to the board of JIA Tuesday that updates a report completed five years ago.
The two-week comment period is now open, and JIA is seeking public input on the draft report posted online.
Singer worked with JIA in 2016 to conduct an initial review of the golf courses and amenities on Jekyll. He returned this year to update his review and offer a Suggested path forward to improve golf on the island.
“We asked Richard to come back and look at any differences or any changes that had occurred in the past few years,” said Jones Hooks, executive director of JIA. “Obviously in 2016 golf was in a different position nationally as well as on Jekyll Island.”
The COVID-19 Pandemic changed the demand for golf across the country, including on Jekyll, where the club has nearly doubled its membership prior to 2020.
Many aspects of the previous review, provided to the JIA board in 2017, remain unchanged today, Singer said.
“We pointed out to you in 2017 that there were Improvements that were needed both in terms of the golf course planning area and the infrastructure associated with that, as well as the clubhouse,” he said.
Staff overseeing the management and maintenance of the golf courses were stretched thin five years ago and continue to be, Singer said. The number of staff members is more appropriate for a 36-hole golf facility rather than the 63-hole facility on Jekyll.
Other facilities, the clubhouse included, also needed to be upgraded, like many amenities on Jekyll have been in recent years, Singer said.
“We said this in 2017 and the same is true today – the data for the Jekyll Island golf club looks a lot more like a 36-hole golf course,” Singer said. “The number of rounds that you host, the revenues that you generate and the expenses that you’re expending, the size of your staff to maintain the property is more consistent with a golf facility that has two golf courses, not one that has three and a half. And I think it’s stretching everything thin. ”
The golf market has changed since NGF’s review was completed in 2017.
“When we were here in 2017, you were experiencing pretty steady declines in your activity revenue at the Jekyll Island golf facility that had gone on for almost a decade,” Singer said. “A lot of that has been reversed. The COVID Pandemic certainly has had a positive impact on golf. ”
Jekyll’s courses are Reliant on attracting visitors to the Golden Isles to remain profitable. But as golf fees go up at competing golf courses in the area, there’s an opportunity for Jekyll to attract customers by offering lower rates.
The aging infrastructure of the courses needs significant attention.
“Pine Lakes remains in the best condition of the golf courses,” Singer said. “It recovers quickly from challenging events like bad rain and things like that, but it still has some things that could be addressed.”
The Oleander golf course will be the most challenging one to improve.
“It’s much lower lying than the other golf courses and it retains water, and it has significant problems with that,” Singer said. “I know they’ve made Band-Aid fixes over the years that haven’t really addressed the core of it, but I think that we look at more closely in 2022 it’s really clear that this isn’t something that could be a quick fix. ”
Improvements will be expensive, they said.
Indian Mound is salvageable, Singer said. Great Dunes, a unique seaside golf course that Singer said Jekyll should Treasure, has irrigation and drainage problems as well.
The golf club also needs to be enhanced and modernized, Singer said.
The NGF report recommends making these Improvements in phases starting with Improvements to the Pine Lakes course.
“You can probably do this without having to close the golf course for any length of time — maybe a strategic close here and there for a week or two to do some projects, to thin out some trees, to fix irrigation, to fix turf issues and to really make it the best it can possibly be, ”Singer said.
Next, the report recommends combining the Oleander and Great Dunes courses into one 18-hole course.
“It gives you an opportunity to have one premier-type, 18-hole golf course that would be oceanfront, and you could really promote and sell the entire golf course with that,” Singer said.
The third phase will address structure Improvements at the club house, cart storage and maintenance facilities. Then decisions can be made about how to improve Indian Mound, which could either be an 18-hole course or a Shorter course that may appeal more to Younger players.
“One of the key things that you will have to evaluate during this process is that when the Oleander and Great Dunes golf courses are under construction you will have to operate the Jekyll Island Golf Club on only two 18-hole courses, 36 total holes, for a year, ”Singer said. “And I think you could learn a lot from that, to see how you handle the day to day and how you could handle events like the Paulk Cup and other big events that you may have during the course of the year.”
The final Suggested phase is to return to Pine Lakes and make more thorough Improvements.
“Over the course of this multi-year, multi-phase project, you can be thinking about what is the ultimate mix of golf courses that you want to have at the Jekyll Island Golf Club,” Singer said.
The proposed changes can make the golf courses profitable for the authority, they said.
“Enhancing your property, Enhancing the quality of golf on Jekyll Island, is going to lead to enhanced revenues,” Singer said. “… You’ve already stretched this as thin as you can, and the only pathway to economic success in the Jekyll Island Golf Club is to improve revenues and to better manage a property of this size.”
The NGF draft report recommends Addressing the aging infrastructure one project at a time over five to seven years. The report also suggests adding strategic pauses between certain phases to allow JIA to reevaluate the overall project.
“It’s a great property and it’s has great potential and it’s one of my favorite projects that I’ve worked on,” Singer said. “But in the end it may be too much, and maybe it’s time to think about making it a little smaller and a little nicer – and a lot nicer.
“You may find that leads to a better Economics for the Jekyll Island golf course.”
Singer Hosted a question-and-answer session with Jekyll Residents after the board meeting Tuesday.