Byler Golf Management sticks to its comfort zone

Like most family-owned businesses, Byler Golf Management won’t stray far from home, minds its money carefully and never bites off more than it can chew.

The Lebanon, Pa.-based company was established by John and Jonathan Byler in 1999, with the purchase of Lebanon Valley Golf Course, and today it owns four 18-hole, daily-fee golf properties, all of them within a short drive of each other in southeastern Pennsylvania. Earlier this year it established another income stream by assuming a lease on Berkleigh Golf Club, a venue that hosted the LPGA Tour’s Betsy King Golf Classic for nearly a decade beginning in 1996.

The pace of Byler’s growth has clearly been slow, but it suits the firm’s business model.

“Our properties were purchased at the right price,” said Jeff Harper, the company’s chief operating officer, “and we run them at the right budget.”

It’s worth noting that Byler’s golf operation isn’t under any unreasonable pressure to generate revenues, because it’s just one division of Byler Holdings, which owns several businesses in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Among those holdings are a real-estate development group, a sand-and-gravel provider, a concrete manufacturer, a trucking company, two movie theaters, two restaurants and a snow-tubing hill.

And though Byler is a regional golf operator, the region that it draws from – Chester, Montgomery, Berks and four other counties northwest of Philadelphia – is home to nearly 3.1 million people. Byler aims to cater to golfers of all ages and income levels, as two of its properties, Lebanon Valley and Blue Mountain Golf Course, are for people who drive Chevys and shop at Kohl’s, while the rest are for people who drive BMWs and shop at Nieman Marcus.

Harper, who describes Byler as a well-capitalized company, describes his ideal property as “a good to great daily-fee course that we can purchase at true market value.” He doesn’t expect to make any further acquisitions over the near term, but he views Byler as being in a perpetual acquisition mode.

“We’re aware of the market and looking at opportunities that present themselves,” he explained. “We aren’t hunting for anything in particular, but you always go through life with your eyes open so you don’t miss any opportunities.”

Byler still has its eyes primarily on ownership possibilities, but Harper doesn’t rule out taking on another lease or even a management contract “if the right situation comes along.”

“There’s no rule book for what we do,” he acknowledged. “There are no absolutes.”

Well, actually, there is an absolute, at least for the time being: Byler doesn’t plan to expand beyond its comfort zone. That being said, Harper doesn’t think a narrow geographic focus will prevent his company from growing. Many of the courses in Byler’s region are owned by people who are nearing retirement age, he says, and he’s keeping his eyes on all of them. 

“We’ve identified plenty of courses in our sweet spot that will come up for sale sooner or later,” he noted. 

This summer, Harper expects to roll out a loyalty program called the Byler Trail. If he’s right about what’s to come in his sweet spot, the trail is eventually going to grow.

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