Indianapolis’ 12 golf courses were historically managed using a patchwork system of operational oversight. Course maintenance, daily operations and equipment repair were in the hands of different parties and spread across different budgets, both inside and outside of City government. Pro shops and clubhouses were managed by private sector golf professionals, but they had little power when it came to maintaining the courses. The result was a group of golf courses that were plagued by substandard facilities, depreciating assets and unsatisfied customers. And, for many of the prior 48 years, the courses had been subsidized by the City – a process that pulled funding away from other Parks Department programs.
Skip Stitt, then the City’s Director of Enterprise Development, helped lead the City’s efforts to improve service, increase the number of rounds played, better protect the City’s assets and eliminate the financial cross subsidy for golf.
Using a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process, the City identified third-party providers (including many of the incumbent golf professionals) to deliver golf-related services in the future. Key project-related strategies included:
- The City consolidated overall golf course management responsibility with the providers, including planning, budgeting, scheduling, maintenance and special events
- The City created a single contract oversight role within the Parks Department and established a rigorous set of key performance measurements
- The City developed mandatory secret shopper programs to monitor and track customer satisfaction by course
- The Parks Department and the providers shared in revenue improvements to ensure that the parties remained goal-congruent with respect to capital investment and future pricing strategies
The City’s Golf Course Partnership was a success on a number of fronts. Customer satisfaction with the overall golfing experience rose to 94%, and customers’ perceptions of golf course operations improved by a similar percentage. In addition, the number of rounds played grew by 3.4% per year – nearly double the historic growth rates. The year after the City entered into the new contracts, more rounds were played on the City’s courses than had been played at any time in history. Overall financial performance also improved with total annual revenues growing by about $735,000. The City then used the same public-private partnership strategy to develop its Golf Academy. Built on the site of the City’s former tree nursery and funded entirely with private money, the Academy provides a unique nine-hole executive golf program combined with the City’s youth golf program. After the City received its share of Academy revenues, all net revenue was donated to a local children’s charity.