Looking Ahead: Golf Courses Hope for Turnaround
Woody Davis has a succinct appraisal of the current belt-tightening economic crunch that is affecting golf complexes around the world.
"We've stayed the same," he said. "The world has changed."
Davis is the man behind Avestra Golf, a local company that owns four golf courses and leases another in Moore County. He started the company in 2002 when the economic times were good and the stock market was booming. Over the past year, he has watched the stock market dwindle and revenue drop at the three complexes.
Included among the Avestra holdings are two courses at Foxfire Resort and Country Club, two at the Country Club of Whispering Pines and one at Southern Pines Golf Club, which is owned by the Elks Club. Hyland Hills, a course that Avestra operated briefly and was hoping to purchase, closed a few months ago because of complications with ownership and financial situations.
"I'd like to have Hyland Hills back in the fold," Davis said "if the right opportunity presents itself But right now we're satisfied with the quality of the courses we have."
While Davis remains confident that Avestra will survive the economic problems, he is quick to point out that it isn't easy maintaining a steady course in a turbulent sea.
"It's across the board," Davis said of the hard times facing his industry, "but we still have a solid situation. We've been hurt by the weather this year, too. This past winter was one of the hardest I've seen for the golf world -- not the severity of the weather, but the timing of it. We had more weekends rained out than I can recall.
"The economy has affected everything around us, not just golf. The way we used to do business just isn't there any more. One thing we've learned is, don't do business with a bank that's having more trouble than you are.
"Our world has changed drastically, and we have to adapt. Sometimes you just can't participate with the economy.
"We have to be very efficient with a dollar, but that's nothing new for us. All of our courses were taken over as turnaround projects, so we've had to be efficient from the start. We've tried to streamline things from the beginning. That's how we've been able to be successful.
"Everybody we have here are good people, and I know that I'm only as good as our worst person."
'Trying to Look Ahead'
Davis admits that there have been cutbacks in areas, but so far says Avestra has been able to limit layoffs and the curtailing of services.
"We have a load to carry," he said, "but it's just something we have to deal with and we try not to overload. We try to spend dollars in areas where they'll return dollars. You look for every place you can save a nickel.
"You hate to go through a period like this, but it may help us because we're doing things we didn't know we could do."
Davis, who earned a master's degree in business, financing and accounting at the University of North Carolina and enjoyed a long career in banking and commercial development, is confident his company can weather the financial storm.
"We're like everyone else, day by day doing the best we can," he said. "From the advance bookings we have, we look to be in pretty good shape for April and May. Now we're looking ahead to what we can do in the fall and next year. We're always trying to look ahead."
Davis said, "We want to keep golf at an affordable level. Golf gets people away from their problems for a few hours and nothing compares to a round of golf on a beautiful morning. But it's essential that we market.
"We're trying to encourage as much short-term driving from areas such as Raleigh-Durham and the Triad as we can. And we're going after the Charlotte market."
'Here for Long Stay'
Davis also points out that the membership base at both Whispering Pines and Foxfire is invaluable.
"Membership helps throughout the year," he said, "but the problem today is that attracting new members has changed. It has to be a real value now for people to even look at it. People are hesitant to make long-term commitments."
Davis feels the quality of the courses in the Avestra fold is one of the company's biggest assets.
"The nicest part about what we have is the 'old men,'" he said. "Our courses were designed by Donald Ross, Ellis Maples and Gene Hamm. All of those guys came from the same era, and they're all in halls of fame.
"Because we're a turnaround company, we've always operated on a tight budget, so we really don't have much excess we can eliminate. We'll give up some things in some areas, but our only asset is our golf courses. People join to play golf, and we have to give them the best product available..
"We're here for the long stay, and we're going to do what we started and keep improving. We give quality and service to everyone and I'm proud of our people for delivering that. If the economy goes completely out, we will too. But as long as it holds, we'll be here with them
"We appreciate our members and the people in this area. Yes, we do take outside play at all of our courses, but the local people are important to us. We just want to be a good member of the community.
"Golf is the cleanest sport in the world and the best family sport. We've got The First Tee of the Sandhills program here at Whispering Pines now and it's just a pleasure to watch those kids learning about golf and life.
"I think it may be 18-24 months before we see the economy turn around. Meanwhile, we just have to do what we can do."
Contact Howard Ward at 690-2211 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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