Jeff Christensen knew it was time to re-vamp his business model when the economy hit rock bottom in 2008. The president of Sierra Golf Management, a northern California-based company, noticed the rack rate for golf courses in the state was declining.
“The trends showed we were not going to get out of the economic climate any time soon,” Christensen said. “So we needed to change with the times, or the times would change us.”
He said one day when he received the bill for his wife’s monthly gym membership, he wondered if the same monthly access fee could be applied to the golf course industry. Soon after, his Golf Revolution model was born.
“I thought, why don’t we use this mass concept for our golf properties and be the Gold Gyms of the golf industry,” Christensen said. “Let’s make it cheaper and get a lot more people buying into it.
In three years, Sierra Golf gained more than 3,000 Golf Revolution members, giving them access to courses within its portfolio. The members pay a one-time initiation fee between $79 and $99 dollars, depending on the package they sign up for.
“Honestly, I should have done this 10 years ago,” he said.
He said the problem is most private clubs rely on expensive membership dues, which fewer and fewer people want. Elkhorn was down to 200 members, but now has 600-plus revolution members. The program’s income accounts for approximately 50 percent of the company’s revenues, while the other half comes from walk-on golfers, he said.
Christensen and his wife Kim founded Sierra Golf in 1994 and are the sole shareholders of the company. It is a regional operation, with all its courses in the San Joaquin region of central California. In August, Sierra Golf added Tracy Country Club, making it the seventh course in the company’s portfolio and the second private club it landed in the last 12 months.
“We have this balanced portfolio that I really like,” Christensen said. “Mid-sized private clubs are the forefront of our target area for the next five years because they’re the ones that need the most help and are at the most risk.”
Christensen said he and his brother Jon, who is the company’s director of agronomy, want to get into golf maintenance contracts — an area they both really enjoy.
“We migrated into things where we feel our expertise is really solid, one of which is in agronomy and showing clubs how you can improve by sometimes spending less,” he said. “You don’t always have to spend more to get better. Sometimes you just have to be more efficient.”