GOLF

Couple turns ‘neighborhood dog track’ into regional draw

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When Tyler Brennan and his wife, Dr. Melissa Mertely, a pair of serial entrepreneurs in their twenties with multiple side businesses on the go were looking for their next venture, a public golf course ticked all the boxes.

Reviewing the Club’s books at Brookstone, the couple saw that the Anderson, South Carolina-based club had been operating in the red since 2006. But they also saw that the bones of a great course were there and the location in a rapidly growing, golf-crazed metropolitan area, just twenty minutes east of Clemson University, felt optimal.

Some of the heavy lifting to take the course to the next level had also already been done. A few years ago, a developer wanting to turn it into a private club had made major capital improvements: setting up a new driving range, irrigation works, laser leveling the tee boxes, redesigning all the greens and setting up new bathrooms on the course before training. a one-year option to opt out of the project, returning the club to the former owners. The price was right too.

“We always imagined that a golf course would cost millions and millions of dollars, but that was not the case. We bought it for $850,000 and to us that seemed reasonable for what it had become,” says Brennan, who is an active Air Force fighter pilot.

When they took over the club in August 2020, operations were antiquated and they saw many areas where modernizing operating systems and rolling out contemporary marketing strategies could have a major impact.

“It was mom and dad all the way: they didn’t know what Google
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it was that they didn’t know what SEO was, they barely had a Facebook page, and the computers were basically running Windows 97,” Brennan says.

By reputation, things weren’t much brighter as the course had become known as the “neighborhood dog track” to area golfers, according to Brennan. From day one, the couple began creating a list of improvements to be made over the next two years to right the ship and systematically whittled down that list, declaring it open-ended to shortcomings that needed to be fixed.

“All we had to do was deliver on our promises of what we were going to improve and when we were going to improve it and communicate with the community and the members we have and that slowly but surely changed the reputation of the course,” , said Brennan.

One of the first steps they took was to dramatically increase the size of the maintenance team, which consisted of a single full-time employee assisted by two junior high school students. They were also using non-rental equipment that didn’t work efficiently and tore up the grass. All new Toro equipment has therefore been brought in.

They then hired a professional superintendent and swelled the ranks of the field crew to fifteen staff at one time to repair bunkers and clean greens and tee boxes, all with the goal of improving the playability and pace of play.

Roy Swan, who organizes the club’s men’s league, has lived in the area adjoining the golf course for eight years and plays the course three times a week.

“When I first moved here, it was in a pretty rough shape. The previous owners hadn’t invested anything in it and were using it with little money,” he says.

Brennan joined Swan for a round the week after buying the course and when they got to the ninth hole Swan mentioned that the par 4 right dogleg was particularly difficult for senior players as they couldn’t reach the bend off the tee creating a double lay-up situation before they could shoot on the green.

“I told him what you had to do is cut down some of these trees that are basically sticking out into the fairway and two weeks later they were gone. I was so impressed. Now I’m on two, maybe half the time. It’s definitely accessible if a senior hits a decent tee shot and then it’s like a five iron,” Swan says.

When Brennan became more specific in his investigations of the golf course, he noticed that many fairways ran almost to the tee boxes with little separation. Aside from the few unlucky golfers who hit the best worm burners off the tee, he found that the vast majority of players cleared at least fifty or sixty yards of these elongated fairways which cost far more to maintain than rough areas.

“It was an easy source of income from the start. No one is removing pieces of grass up to 80 yards further up the fairway. Why are we still cutting here? We made these areas difficult and, in doing so, we cut $40,000 from the annual budget and it didn’t affect gameplay at all,” Brennan explains.

Simple tweaks have also been made to bolster the beer selection beyond basic macro brewery offerings, create a happy hour and add a drinks cart service to bring Finnish electric scooters which have been a big hit with young golfers.

To increase course usage, they have also introduced tiered pricing with rate reductions for midday tee times as well as deeper price reductions for dusk rounds to meet the demand for juice outside peak hours.

“One problem the previous owners had was when they had a good number of golfers, the tee sheet filled up from the bottom up. Once the prime time [slots] would fill, no one else would want to book that hot 3 p.m. tee time,” says Brennan.

Dr. Mertely, who runs his own dental practice in Kinston, North Carolina, saw an opportunity to use the property more as a venue to host small events such as vow renewals, baby showers, birthdays and graduation parties. They also dabbled in planning larger weddings, but found that the larger tasks clashed too much with the flow of the course.

“The property is beautiful. It works great for golf and it works great for weddings, but having both at the same time is really difficult because of the volume of golfers we have now. Our main focus is golf and the events are an added bonus,” says Mertely.

The Brookstone club was recently recognized by Golf Now as the top round producer in their region for the first half of the year. In 2021, the club, which is now operating profitably, brought in $1.1 million and for 2022 they expect revenue to be just under $1.7 million.

Both owners have demanding day jobs, while remotely operating dog daycare centers and a major online racing drone retailer that brings in more than $17 million a year. A laser focus on staffing has been key to the success of all their businesses, as has determining their target market and then doing everything possible to meet their interests.

“For The Club at Brookstone, it’s the Greenville and Clemson market that has a lot of young golfers. I know young golfers because I am one. So what do they want? They want good beer, a good priced course that they can putt straight on and go out and have fun,” says Brennan.

When asked if another golf course was in their future, Dr Mertley laughs as he remembers the paint that got in his hair while renovating the clubhouse and all the blood, the sweat and tears it took to put the club on the path to profitability. For his part, Brennan says he wasn’t even emotionally ready to explore that possibility until an opportunity presented itself a few months ago. The couple had to choose between adding a third dog daycare to their portfolio or pursuing a second golf course project and the pups won the day.

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