Golfing Strong

By Jackie Jones

While Nashville is known internationally for country music, hot chicken, and Southern hospitality, an increasing number of tourists are discovering what longtime residents have always known—the city has one of the best park systems in the nation. One undeniable indicator of the department’s success is the city’s portfolio of six golf courses with a consistent increase in rounds of golf played over the last five years, which is bucking the national trend.

“There are several growth factors that have contributed to our success,” says John Holmes, who heads the department’s revenue-generating facilities. “When you couple these factors with the variety, location, playability, and beauty of our courses, it’s just a winning scenario for the department, the city, and most importantly—our golfers.”

Growth Factors
1. Population increase. Nashville’s population continues to increase at an amazing rate. With all of the new residents moving to the Middle Tennessee area, many are golfers looking for courses to play. Because of the variety of course terrains and the many convenient locations, Nashville Fairways appeals to a wide range of golfers.

2. Course improvements. In 2014, Metro Parks was approved to increase greens fees by $1 for each nine holes. The funds generated were earmarked for course improvements, like netting replacement, bunker improvements and additional trees. However, the biggest impact has been to the greens. For the past three years, the department has re-grassed the greens on one course with new Ultra-dwarf Bermuda.

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3. Greens. Nashville is in a difficult region for golf courses, based on weather. The city’s hot, humid summers cause the greens to become stressed, and the cold winters damage traditional Bermuda greens. Staffers found that the new hybrid Bermuda grasses created a stronger, more consistent putting surface as opposed to the Bent Grass system that had been traditionally used. Tif Eagle Bermuda greens are very tolerant of the cold, and double covers are used at each course over the greens in the event of prolonged sub-30-degree temperatures. The results have been outstanding. “We receive daily accolades for the quality of golf courses we offer, and a large part of that is attributed to the quality of the greens,” says Holmes. “We are able to maintain a smooth, fast, consistent putting surface that golfers love to play on.”

4. Customer service. This is a critical factor. Bad service can leave a customer feeling that an establishment is sub-par, no matter how nice the facility or service actually is, while on the other hand, great customer service can make a golfer’s overall experience enjoyable, even if other factors are not perfect.

5. Price point. In today’s economy, price point is vital. The department surveys local and regional golf courses each year to make sure greens fees remain in the mid to low range. This is particularly important for weekday fees, as the majority of golfers are usually older adults looking for the best price. A senior special that rotates around the city’s fairway system encourages golfers to try all of the department’s courses.

6. Marketing. Nashville has a number of privately owned, public-access courses. Branding and promotion are key elements in enticing new residents while maintaining long-term golfers. Nashville Fairways has been able to develop a relationship with one of the local sports-radio stations that involves selling golf rounds on a punch card in exchange for paying a percentage of sales, as well as providing radio spots. Having these spots during the morning, noon, and evening drive times has had a huge impact on getting the course in front of potential golfers. This brings the new residents out to try the courses as well as remind long-time local golfers of the city’s municipal courses. Social media are also used to promote courses, events, and leagues, striving to make golfers aware of what the city offers, whether they are lifelong players or new to the game.

Holmes says these favorable business factors, coupled with a high-quality product, mean a great return on investment for everyone. “Our maintenance staff takes great pride in providing a top-quality product while dealing with the same budget limitations impacting park systems across the country,” he says. “This has been achieved by having well-educated and knowledgeable course superintendents. In addition, we have a person overseeing the entire maintenance function that is able to set programs that maximize efficiency and effectiveness while staying within a very limited budget.

“Couple the high-quality product with the superior customer service provided by both clubhouse staff members and outside services, and the entire golf experience brings golfers back and motivates them to spread the word about our courses,” he explains.

For more information on Metro Parks and Nashville Fairways, visit www.parks.nashville.gov

Jackie Jones is the Superintendent of Community Affairs for the Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation in Nashville, Tenn. Reach her at Jackie.Jones@nashville.gov.

Wayne Evans also contributed to this article.

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A Look At The Courses
Metro Parks’ Nashville Fairways includes six golf courses: one 27-hole course, four 18-hole courses, and one 9-hole course. These courses are strategically located throughout the county and each is unique in what it offers.

· McCabe Golf Course, located near the center of the county near downtown, has 27-holes, a large driving range, a regional community center, ball fields adjacent to the property, and a greenway bordering the course. This is the department’s busiest course, averaging 110,000 9-hole rounds per year. A relatively short course at about 6,000 yards, McCabe challenges the experienced golfer while remaining very playable for beginners.

· Shelby and Ted Rhodes are 18-hole courses, also located near the center of the county and close to downtown. Built in 1924, Shelby is the oldest course, and incorporates rolling hills and picturesque landscape.

· Ted Rhodes Golf Course, named after one of the first African American players on the PGA Tour, is a links-style course located on the Cumberland River. It incorporates lakes and bunkers to make for a challenging but pleasurable and scenic round of golf.

· Harpeth Hills Golf Course is located in the southern section of the county in Percy Warner Park. Through the Audubon Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses, the course is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and is widely respected as one of Tennessee’s top public-golf facilities.

· Two Rivers Golf Course is located north of downtown in the Donelson community, and while it is challenging from the back tees, it is enjoyed by the average golfer from the other three tee locations. Hole number 8 has a spectacular view of the downtown skyline.

· Percy Warner Golf Course, also located in Percy Warner Park, is one of Nashville’s most golf-friendly courses. An easy walking course, it is perfect for beginners and families.