Landscapes Unlimited's diversification strategy

More than 40 years after it was founded, Landscapes Unlimited continues to blaze new trails in a golf industry that’s struggling to find its post-recession footing.

Bill Kubly’s Lincoln, Nebraska-based company has a well-deserved reputation as one of golf’s premier builders, but over the years it’s morphed into a multifaceted conglomerate with growing international interests. Today, in addition to its construction division, it owns and manages golf properties and offers a variety of à la carte services to course owners and operators, including golf maintenance on a contract basis.

In fact, Landscapes Unlimited now brands itself as a solutions provider, with a growing list of services designed to support companies facing challenges in just about every area of golf development, construction and operations.

“The diversification we’ve done has allowed us to keep our full-time people employed and reinvest in the company,” said Mike Jenkins, the president of the firm’s ownership and operations division, Landscapes Golf Group. 

The diversification was born of necessity. During the height of golf’s construction frenzy, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Landscapes Unlimited was producing, on average, 15 new courses a year. Its work includes Prairie Club in Valentine, Neb.; Primland Resort Golf Course in Blue Ridge, Va.; the Canyons in Park City, Utah; and Erin Hills in Hartford, Wisc., the host of this year’s U.S. Open.

In the wake of a crippling recession, however, Landscapes Unlimited now builds just two or three new courses annually. Renovations have become the construction division’s raison d'être, as it now does 110 to 130 of them a year. The division prepared Southern Hills Country Club and Torrey Pines Golf Course for their most recent U.S. Open championships, and these days its to-do list includes the Highlands track at Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga., and Carolina Country Club in Raleigh, N.C.

“The clubs that put off doing renovations are now pulling the trigger,” said Jenkins. “A lot of courses out there need to become more playable.”

When times were flush in the golf industry, Landscapes Unlimited believed it might also make a mark in ownership, but that dream was short-lived. Landscapes Golf Group, which was established in 1999, once owned 25 golf properties. After the turn of the century, though, as golf values declined and its debt load became worrisome, the division began to lighten its portfolio. Today it owns, wholly or in part, 13 properties, among them venues in Nebraska (Arbor Links in Nebraska City), Arizona (Coldwater Golf Club in Avondale), Colorado (Broadlands Golf Course in Broomfield), Indiana (Sagamore Club in Noblesville), Iowa (Shoreline Golf Course) and South Dakota (Sutton Bay Golf Club in Agar).

Landscapes Unlimited manages its own properties, and today, through Landscapes Management Company, it also manages nearly three dozen other private, public, resort and municipal layouts, including Ballyhack Golf Club in Roanoke, Va., Mountain Shadows Golf Course in Scottsdale, Ariz.,and Max A. Mandel Golf Course in Laredo, Texas. Jenkins, who describes the collection as “affordable, accessible, mid-level courses,” views management as a growth area, and he thinks the division can comfortably add three to five properties a year over the near term. 

Tom Everett is president of the management services company, Landscapes Management Company. Everett started with Landscapes 20 years ago as a club general manager.

Three of the properties managed by the company are in foreign countries, and one of them — Shanqin Bay Golf Club, on China’s Hainan Island — checks in a #37 on Golf Digest’s list of the world’s 100 greatest golf courses.

Landscapes Unlimited has worked in China since 2005, when it made an alliance with the golf division of Shenzhen-based Forward Group and assisted in the construction of more than a half-dozen golf courses. The People’s Republic is no longer a hot spot for golf construction, unfortunately, but today Landscapes Unlimited has a construction contract in Mexico and it may soon pick up others in Morocco.

Jenkins doesn’t ever expect to earn a long parade of international contracts, but he’s willing to follow U.S. course designers wherever they go. “We’re always looking at new opportunities,” he said.

An opportunity that Landscapes Unlimited is pursuing with relish involves contracts for a wide range of undertakings — among them accounting, food-and-beverage services and even executive — for owners who don’t wish to turn over their entire operations to third-party managers. The company has offered such assistance since 2007 through Landscapes Select, and this year it created Landscapes Golf Maintenance to address a course owner’s largest expenditure, course maintenance.

“Our main goal is to sell complete management packages,” said Jenkins, “but if limited services make sense for somebody, we’ll go with that.”

All these diverse lines of business have given Landscapes Unlimited an even greater stake in the golf industry, and today Jenkins says he’s “bullish” about the future of the company’s construction division. He acknowledges that only a relatively few new courses will be built in coming years, but he expects the pipeline of renovations to gush as course owners and operators improve their balance sheets. One reason for his optimism: The company’s construction backlog is currently the highest it’s been in a decade.

Since its founding, in 1976, Landscapes Unlimited has been involved in more than 1,700 golf-related projects. It’s easy to conclude that at least 1,700 more are still to come.

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