Practice Ranges – What are they worth to a club?

Having grown up at a club with no practice range, I always felt like the club was incomplete. What I didn’t understand until later is how much a quality practice facility is worth to any golf course or club.

At my present club, we have an extensive practice facility with short game area, putting green and teaching/club-fitting area. It encompasses a total of approximately 17.5 acres. Of that, there is roughly 2.5 acres of teeing area, a short game area of just under 2 acres and a putting green of roughly 8,200 SF. By any measure, it’s an extensive facility and gets plenty of use.

At any given time, the practice area might have 20-30 players (sometimes more) hitting balls, 4-5 people putting, 4-5 people chipping and 3 people taking lessons or being fit for clubs. What that means is that our practice area is often populated with up to 40 people using the facility, or about 2.5 people per acre. The total property is approximately 330+/- acres, and at any given time, exclusive of the practice area (17.5 acres) the remaining 312 acres (36 holes) could have 200 players (roughly 1.5 acres per player) simultaneously playing golf. The point is that practice facilities are efficient uses of the land resource as compared to the golf course.

With many clubs and courses considering the establishment of or enhancements to practice facilities, economics comes to the forefront. At the club I grew up at, opponents of developing a practice area used to say “nobody practices here”. Then, those individuals would go out and shag balls on the course, often damaging the fairways. They didn’t want to spend the money.

Like anything else, practice facility development costs money. Thus, at most clubs it has to pay for itself. The math is pretty simple but needs to be evaluated two ways:

  • The club needs to calculate how many additional members are needed to pay for the facility. This can be done by calculating the debt service on the cost plus the annual cost of maintenance of the area and determining how much in dues revenue is needed to cover that.
  • The “fallback” analysis uses the same debt service to determine the cost per existing member and thus the “risk” should no new members be generated by the project.

Of course, there are revenue considerations which vary considerably from club to club and from private clubs to daily-fee facilities and at some private clubs the club can simply assess the membership to pay for the project.

The modern practice facility has become somewhat of a destination. No longer just inhabited by the “range rats” (serious golfers working on their games) the practice ground is now frequented by those with limited time and those looking to improve without the pressure of the golf course. Some have high tech amenities like Track Man and Learning Centers with video and swing analysis while others have food & beverage service and are now regarded as places to “hang”. As one might imagine, these can become revenue centers in those instances where users are charged or if membership dues can be increased.

Many years ago legendary course architect A.W. Tillinghast wrote: “Ground for Practice in proximity to the clubhouse is one of the essentials of the modern golf course. The need of it is recognized generally and demanded.” This has never been more true than today. Not only does a quality practice facility attract players and members, but it can take pressure off the golf course when the course is busy, hosting events or undergoing maintenance or renovation.

A practice range is worth much to any golf facility. My old club never developed a practice area and ultimately closed for development. It could’ve been avoided and a practice area would’ve helped.