Brown Golf Management expands into two new states

Slowly but surely, Brown Golf Management is shedding its identity as a regional golf operator.

Since it was founded, in 2011, Brown Golf has operated almost exclusively in Florida, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. This year, however, the company was hired to manage the golf venues owned by Holiday Inn’s time-share division. The pact added three properties to Brown Golf’s management portfolio, two of them – Apple Mountain Resort & Golf Club in Clarkesville, Georgia and Holiday Hills Resort & Golf Club in Branson, Missouri – in states where the firm didn’t previously have a presence.

It’s only a short-term contact, but it may bring long-term rewards. “They’re in a ‘buy’ mode,” said John A. Brown, Jr., the company’s founder. What’s more, Brown believes his Bluffton, South Carolina and Camp Hill, Pennsylvania-based company will soon reach farther west and up the Atlantic coast. By the end of this year, he hopes to add properties in Las Vegas, Nevada and Maryland, and he’s exploring opportunities in Phoenix, Arizona and the major cities of Texas. No matter where it goes, however, Brown Golf’s business model isn’t likely to change. The company has what Brown calls “a value-oriented philosophy,” and it primarily aims to serve middle-income, daily-fee golfers who are looking for enjoyable, low-cost rounds. It targets properties that generate between $1.5 million and $4 million in annual revenues.

“It’s our wheelhouse, and we’ve found a way to make it work,” Brown said. “We want to operate profitably, but we want our courses to be priced for the average fellow.” Brown founded his firm with his sons, John M. and Todd. All three of them cut their teeth in operations at Troon Golf, a pure management company, but from the beginning they understood that ownership presented greater profit potential. Today, Brown Golf owns and operates 11 properties, manages eight and leases two. In total, it has 29 courses in its portfolio, and last year it rang up $34 million in gross revenues.

In the beginning, Brown Golf set out to “cluster” its properties in solid golf markets — Hilton Head, Pinehurst, Jacksonville — and build a reliable customer base by selling memberships that offered play at every course in the network. The company grew quickly – it became one of Golf Inc.’s top 25 management companies in just four years – because it was able to strike bargains with owners who’d been financially flattened by the Great Recession. But these days, as the U.S. economy improves and golf valuations rise, it’s no longer easy to buy low.

“It’s getting tougher to find the types of golf courses we like to buy,” Brown said. Still, Brown believes there will always be a market for affordable golf. As his firm spreads across the nation, he expects to maintain a more or less equal combination of management contracts and owned-and-operated properties.

“I think it’s a good mix that protects us in any economic environment,” he said.

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