Aspen Golf Club rebounds from sluggish spring | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Golf Club rebounds from sluggish spring

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Andre Salvail/The Aspen TimesGolfers take advantage of last week's warm temperatures and sunshine to hit balls at the Aspen Golf Club driving range. The golf course, which saw more play this year than in 2010, will be open through the end of the month.

ASPEN – After a slow start caused by wet and cold spring weather, Aspen Golf Club rebounded during the summer and is showing an increase in rounds and revenue compared with 2010.

As of Wednesday, with two weeks left until the course’s official closure, 24,322 rounds of golf had been played in 2011, slightly surpassing last year’s total of 24,179. Revenue wise, the municipal golfing facility is on pace to reap $1.64 million, a 10 percent increase from 2010’s $1.49 million.

There are other encouraging trends at the city-owned facility. The pro shop has pulled in more than $168,000 so far this year, on pace for a 30 percent increase compared with last year. The new arrangement with the renowned Rabito Golfing Academy proved successful, generating nearly 700 lessons and providing a small profit above the city’s start-up cost of $15,000.

Challenge Aspen’s annual fundraiser promoted by celebrities Vince Gill and Amy Grant, part of which revolved around golfing activities, garnered more than $600,000. The two-day event in early August was deemed the most successful fundraiser in the nonprofit’s 15-year history.

“It was a good year overall,” said Director of Golf Steve Aitken, who pointed out that a better start to the 2011 golfing season would have driven rounds and revenue even higher.

“May was bad. It was slow all through the month,” he said.

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While the numbers improved significantly over 2010, the revenue wasn’t enough to cover expenses, Aitken said. The municipal golf operation received a $146,000 subsidy from the parks department this year to help balance its budget. Next year’s subsidy is budgeted at $152,000, despite projections of increased revenue.

Such arrangements are commonplace at public golfing facilities across the United States, since courses add other types of value to a community and the economy that aren’t directly tied to the bottom line. Aitken notes that Aspen’s course provides many other amenities to the public, including fishing ponds, Nordic skiing in the winter and a restaurant. On Sept. 11, the city held its annual community picnic at the course, providing a free barbecue lunch and family-friendly games.

To help generate more money so that the subsidies stay in the $150,000 range, the golf course is planning to implement higher prices in 2012 for daily greens fees, the “gold” and “silver” full-season passes, junior passes and carts. The charge for the popular spring and fall “bronze” passes, which cost $299, won’t change. The price of the $575 20-round pass (each round representing nine holes) also will remain the same.

Aitken said the fees are in line with what similar facilities around the country charge. “We’ll continue to provide a fun, affordable program for locals,” he said.

The first-year arrangement for Rabito Golf Academy to provide golf lessons failed to meet the city’s revenue goal, but holds promise for the future, Aitken said. The relationship with Rabito was fodder for a small controversy back in April, when interim Councilwoman Ruth Kruger, who was running for mayor, scrutinized the proposed contract with the school and ended up voting against it.

The agreement called for the city to provide $15,000 in start-up costs to assist the Florida-based school, which was founded by PGA master teaching professional Carl Rabito and has satellite teaching operations in six states.

In 2010, instructors taught 392 lessons in-house. With Rabito on board for 2011, the number of lessons rose to at least 677. Aitken said last week he was waiting on the final tally from the school.

Financially, the academy realized nearly $68,476, an 89 percent increase compared with 2010’s $36,245 generated by an instructor who received all of the income. This year, the city derived 30 percent of the Rabito school’s Aspen revenue, and profited $5,500 above the $15,000 start-up cost, he said.

“Last year we netted zero,” Aitken said. “We had a teaching pro that took all of the gross. But this year our goal was $100,000. We didn’t meet our goal but I think we’re off to a great start.”

Rabito sent instructor David DeMay to work in Aspen. DeMay, who recently returned to Sanctuary Ridge Golf Club in Orlando, Fla., for the fall and winter golfing seasons, was a good fit for the Aspen facility, Aitken said.

“We frankly got the best teacher out of all the Rabito golfing schools,” he said. “DeMay’s got a great work ethic; he came up here in late April and stayed until last week. He’s got an infectious personality.”

Aitken said there is untapped potential for marketing and revenue opportunities involving the Rabito school.

“Rabito is connected to these other facilities around the country and there’s a possibility to offer golf packages, working with our hotels, to bring people out here. We haven’t gotten into that yet,” he said.

For 2012, Aspen Golf Club plans to replace its fleet of golf carts and is pursuing a lease-purchase arrangement with a cart supplier. The city has yet to hire a company for the 60-cart contract but Aitken said securing bids shouldn’t be a problem. The cost is expected to run about $85,000 a year. The city plans to replace golf carts every five years and maintenance equipment every seven years.

With the course in good shape, thanks to a state-of-the-art irrigation system installed about six years ago, the city is only budgeting $25,000 in course improvements from 2012 to 2016. The old system used about 90 million gallons of water a year, Aitken said, but the new one is more efficient and taps about 60 million gallons.

The golf course is offering a special greens fee of $29 through its closure at the end of the month, which represents a $10 discount from the previous late-season rate.

asalvail@aspentimes.com