Key Golf puts focus on course maintenance

The key to Key Golf Management’s appeal is its ability to provide top-notch maintenance and golf course care services so owners and general managers can focus on revenue-making components such as tee sheet, food & beverage and pro shop operations.

“We’re not a Troon, we’re not ClubCorp,” said Kip Wolfe, principal of the Henderson, Nev.-based company. “Our niche is maintenance. That allows operators to do what they do best.”

Some owners and operators don’t want to give up total control of their courses to outside management companies, Wolfe said. This is an attractive alternative, particularly for owners who enjoy the business side of the enterprise. 

“We install our culture and agronomy practices to the facility,” he said. “If you let a course begin to go, the downward slide can really speed up.”

Keeping the course up to snuff is what Key Golf does, he said. And that’s vital. 

“You need to be on the cutting-edge when it comes to conditions,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how cold your beer is if your course is in poor condition.”

Key Golf also looks to lower maintenance costs through a number of strategies, including reduced water usage. That’s a significant issue in the Southwest, where most of Key’s clients are located, Wolfe said. 

One example of the firm’s work is Red Rock County Club, a three-course facility in Las Vegas. Key Golf took over all aspects of golf course maintenance at the courses in November 2013 and placed Regional Superintendent Jared Bumpus in charge.

"Once we got the courses back to being playable we wanted to develop strategies where we wouldn't lose fairways, greens and rough like they had in past years," Bumpus said. This included a total review of the entire agronomy program – irrigation system, drainage, watering schedules and other elements.

In the past, the courses had been closed for a combined 18 days annually for maintenance. Key Golf brought that number down to just four. That’s 14 additional days to make money. 

Key Golf also helped decrease the water usage by as much as 20 percent. One of the ways it does so is by reducing turf. At many courses, there are a number of places that are out of play but where turf has been installed. It’s not necessary. 

“Water is a major issue in the valley, and that's why a lot of Vegas courses are closing," Bumpus said. "Water costs can run about $600,000 annually at a typical course, so 20 percent is a lot of money back in the owner's pocket. And, it reduces the electricity load because less water is being pumped. Water reduction is something we do at all of our courses."

Key Golf also offers owners and operators another value. It runs a construction company called Pro-Turf International. That assures operators that any construction need can be handled by one company, without the hassle of going to a third-party vendor.

Pro-Turf International was co-founded by Wolfe nearly three decades ago and did a lot of new course construction. However, fewer new courses being built in recent years, that approach has changed. 

Wolfe pivoted to focus the construction side on renovations, which have become considerably more popular as course owners look to improve their current operations. 

And Key Golf Management can do it all, including drain channel reduction and bunker renovation.   

“We’re a very unique company,” Wolfe said. 

Key Golf recently completed a bunker project at Red Rock, the most recent in that series of improvements to bring the course back to standards. The work was completed utilizing Linebacker Bunker Liner, which is an affordable option for courses. 

“There are many types of liners, and they all have their pros and cons,” said Red Rock Golf Course Superintendent George Folopoulos. “Linebacker fits in the middle of the price range, and that helps courses stay within their budgets.”

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