Multi-Functional Golf Courses – The Answer to Highest and Best Use?

Golf courses represent a largely inefficient use of land resources. There’s a maximum of approximately 300 players per day on an 18-hole course, depending on daylight. With alternative uses, a site of 150 to 200 acres can typically accommodate more people.

For instance, if a 150 acre site is developed with just 2 housing units per acre, approximately 225 to 260 homes can be built (allowing for infrastructure of 20-25%) and if each household has 2.6 people that calculates to between 585 and 676 people using the site every day. Simple math and logic shows why golf courses are often NOT the highest and best use for their sites.

My recent interview with ASGCA President Forrest Richardson included discussion of multifunctional uses for golf courses, while maintaining continued golf use. The traditionalists among us will likely scoff at the idea of some creative activities, but if economics dictate, there are options.

Golf courses, especially those with ample practice facilities can be adapted for a number of activities, including:

  • Archery
  • Arboretum (tree collection)
  • Athletic Fields (Soccer, Football, Baseball, Volleyball, Frisbee)
  • Bee keeping
  • Bird watching
  • Bowling
  • Car Shows
  • Concerts
  • Dog Walking
  • Cross-country riding – equestrian events
  • Drive-In Movies
  • Drone Exhibitions
  • Film evenings with refreshments
  • Fishing
  • Flea Markets
  • Football golf
  • Frisbee golf

Clubhouse and other building spaces can be used for:

  • Bridge
  • Classes in zumba, salsa and other dances
  • Cooking classes
  • Cooking teams – who meet to prepare
  • Exercise classes
  • Fashion shows
  • Indoor golf lessons – with soft balls, putting competitions. etc.
  • Lectures on archaeological finds
  • Guided nature tours
  • GPS navigation races
  • Horse riding
  • Kite flying
  • Long distance skiing races
  • Minigolf
  • Model boat sailing on ponds
  • Model airplane flying
  • Mushroom picking
  • Nordic walking (with poles)
  • Obedience or agility classes for dogs
  • Orienteering (running or walking – combined with a treasure hunt )
  • Running
  • Skiing trials
  • Sledge and toboggan slopes
  • Stamp collecting meetings
  • Trapshooting
  • Walks around the golf course
  • Local history talks on the cultural history on the land
  • Stamp Collector Meetings
  • Quiz Evenings
  • Rules Classes for Golfers
  • Seminars
  • Shows & Exhibitions
  • Weight Training
  • Wine Tasting
  • Yoga

Of course, each of these activities would have to be scheduled during seasons or time of day when they wouldn’t interfere with golf and safety orientation would be necessary to ensure a safe environment and limit liability. Every course’s physical characteristics are different relative to terrain, obstacles, access and more but each of these activities could generate revenue and help preserve, in the long term what many residents of communities with golf courses consider their park by enhancing the economics for the owner and increasing the facility usage to a greater percentage of the surrounding population.

Anyone who travels will also notice that most hotels have a small shop where guests can purchase necessities like toiletries, snacks and other items. With many golf facilities seeking to enhance revenues, clubhouses might be able to keep golfers there longer by offering the ability to purchase common home items (milk, bread, toilet paper) at the course enabling the golfer to stick around and have a “burger and a beer” versus leaving immediately to run these errands.

In the COVID era of social distancing, many courses are losing their events and banquets creating large “dark” spaces that still require power, HVAC and regular maintenance. With indoor activities limited, used for these areas aren’t plentiful but I’ve heard of some placing golf simulators, having socially distant fitness or spin classes and other similar activities. Clubhouses can also be segmented to rent office and/or retail space to realize revenues from seldom used spaces.

“Highest and Best Use” is defined as The reasonably probable use of property that results in the highest value. The four criteria that the highest and best use must meet are legal permissibility, physical possibility, financial feasibility, and maximum productivity. For many golf courses and clubs, this means considering mixed use concepts that use the real property asset efficiently. For golf courses and clubs to thrive and survive in the long term, reinvention of the golf/club concept is likely and in fact already happening in some places.

There are a number of golf facilities using their sites for golf and non-golf activities like those mentioned above. On those sites with alternative, more economically productive potential uses the preservation of golf will require thinking “outside the box” to add utility, revenue and value in order to perpetuate continued use as golf and club facilities.

It is my sincere hope that golf’s spike in activity resulting from its socially distancing compatible characteristics in the COVID era is sustainable post-COVID. If, as many predict a recession is on the way, more golf facilities should consider creative means of enhancing revenues, increasing property value and hopefully avoiding the developer’s bulldozer.