Small operator, Foursome Golf, thinking big

One of the golf industry’s smallest management companies is dreaming big.

Foursome Golf Management Group believes it’s found a formula that can inject some economic life into under-performing municipal courses located in or near U.S. cities. The results so far have been promising, and the firm’s principals have begun laying a foundation for future expansion.

“We’re comfortable with urban municipal golf operations that aren’t doing well,” said Don Siggelkow, one of the company’s four founders. “The beauty of an urban area is that it has a lot of people, so if you offer a good product at a good price, you can get rounds.”

Siggelkow and his partners have engineered their one and only financial turnaround in St. Paul, Minn., where they’ve been operating a pair of city-owned courses since 2014. When they secured the contract, the city’s Como and Phalen Park tracks were each losing, according to Siggelkow, $250,000 annually. Today the courses are profitable, and the city is so pleased that late last year it voided the group’s original five-year management contract and replaced it with a 10-year extension.

“Now that we’ve signed the extension,” Siggelkow noted, “we’re positioned to see what other cities might want to utilize our services.”

Foursome’s principals have backgrounds in both golf and food-and-beverage operations. Siggelkow spent years on the budget team at the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board, which oversaw the city’s golf courses. Another member of the foursome, Tim Kuebelbeck, was the board’s director of golf.

When city officials in St. Paul went looking for private-sector management, Siggelkow and Kuebelbeck joined Bill and Tom Given, who at the time owned a well-known local catering company, Prom Management Group. Prom was no stranger to golf, as it was the concessionaire for several dozen golf events annually, among them the U.S. Open, the Players Championship and the Barclays. The Givens sold Prom in 2015, and today they do business as Envision Catering & Hospitality.

To improve the bottom lines at Como and Phalen Park, Foursome addressed the expense side of the ledger by replacing full-time, full-benefit city employees with part-time seasonal workers. The savings allowed Foursome to discount greens fees, which in turn attracted both more play and increased spending on food and drinks.

The result: Last year, St. Paul received a check for $80,000, which was $10,000 more than the contract stipulated.

“You’ve got to keep costs down so you can keep prices down,” explained Siggelkow. “It’s that simple. But some cities don’t understand it.”

Siggelkow doesn’t expect to add any courses to Foursome’s tiny portfolio this year or even next year. “In 2018 and 2019,” he said, “we’ll get out and let municipalities know that we exist and share our success stories with them.”

Foursome’s approach may not be bulletproof, but metropolitan Minneapolis is an ideal place to test it. Late last year, the Pioneer Press reported that 26 golf courses in the area have gone out of business since 2000. Municipal courses have been suffering disproportionately, as they’ve been financially squeezed by declining golf participation, high labor costs, demands for budget cuts and competition from lower-end daily-fee properties.

In fact, because so many of the area’s municipalities are now considering private-sector management, Siggelkow believes that Foursome will find plenty of potential acquisitions within a half-hour’s drive of downtown Minneapolis.

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