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Management firm scoops up Deer Lake

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Topeka, Kan.-based Great Life Golf & Fitness opened the Deer Lake Golf Course in west Springfield on April 25, ending concerns whether the course’s owners, Deer Lake Partners LLC, would snag a tenant. Ownership closed the course Dec. 3, after its management contract dissolved, and had delayed its 2011 opening, leaving speculation about the course’s future.  

Great Life Golf officials announced April 22 that the company agreed to terms with Tulsa, Okla.-based Deer Lake Partners to lease the course for five years for an undisclosed amount.

Rick Farrant, president of the Great Life management company, said his firm reached the agreement following three days of negotiation with the owners.

“It was a deal we couldn’t pass up,” Farrant said of Great Life’s 18th managed property; its nearest course is in Lebanon.

Deer Lake has operated under new ownership for the past year. Tulsa, Okla.-based Deer Lake Partners LLC paid $3.5 million in March 2010 for the 18-hole course, its 80-acre subdivision and an adjacent 107 acres of undeveloped land – enticed by a 1,600-foot well on the site.

Robert Phillips, a partner in Deer Lake Partners and owner of Tulsa-based developer P&H Properties, did not return calls by press time. The owners rezoned the vacant acreage with the intent of developing an industrial park and announced last summer tentative plans to build a water-bottling facility at the site.

Double take
Great Life plans to convert a Deer Lake building into a fitness center.

Farrant said one of his members told him that he ought to take a look at the Deer Lake course after he had already heard that it was available. That led Farrant to contact the owners and visit the course. He said there had been some concern that it would be in bad shape because the previous operators, General Manager Noel Spering and partners, left in December at the end of their lease.

“Usually in that situation, you’re kind of expecting to find a disaster because we had been told that the course was closed. We got down here and were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the golf course and the quality of the facilities,” Farrant said.  

He said Great Life is selling fitness and golf packages together, noting monthly memberships would be $59, and Monday through Thursday memberships would be $39 per month.

Aubrey McBride, who serves as Deer Lake’s on-site general manager, said Great Life, which has been in business for 26 years, is focused on selling memberships. He said tournaments wouldn’t be turned down, but the company is concentrating on everyday golfers.

“We are a value-oriented business,” McBride said, adding that Deer Lake memberships also are valid at Lebanon. “We want people to have a good golfing experience, and we want to retain members.”

Crowded greens
Sean Saunders, a PGA-certified golf instructor who teaches at LedgeStone Golf Club, CoxHealth and The Range, had worked as a tournament organizer for Deer Lake under Spering before he left in October amid swirling uncertainty about the course’s future. Saunders said he recommended his tournament organizing colleagues move their play to Island Green Golf Course in Republic or Hidden Valley Golf Course in Clever.

Saunders, a Souix City, Iowa, native who moved to Springfield in 2007, feels the golf market is overcrowded in southwest Missouri.

“There’s too many choices, and all the courses are struggling,” Saunders said. “When you have too many golf courses for the population, then it’s all about price points.”

Sauders, who received his PGA membership after attending the Professional Golf Management program in Port St. Lucie, Fla., said the 27 courses within a 50-mile radius of Springfield is too much. He said a healthier number based on the population would be between 15 and 20 courses.

Saunders was surprised to hear Deer Lake reopened, but understands the owners had to meet expectations of the adjacent homeowners. With the course being shut down for four months, he said the new tenants would have their work cut out for them.

“I think it’s going to be in bad shape no matter what they say. I don’t think it’s going to be what it was,” Saunders said.

He said Deer Lake hosted 15 to 20 tournaments per year, with its largest tournament bringing in around 230 golfers and more than $5,000 in revenues.

Robert Alberty, owner of Hidden Valley Golf Course in Clever, said he has picked up about five new tournaments this year, but he wasn’t sure if that was due to the closure at Deer Lake or a result of a down economy. Hidden Valley’s new tournaments are connected to the banking and construction industries.

“Like anything else, when discretionary income goes down and gas prices go up you have to pick your entertainment,” Alberty said, adding that he’s more concerned about gas prices approaching $4 a gallon during the thick of golf season than competing with Deer Lake.

Alberty said between 35 and 40 tournaments are scheduled this year at Hidden Valley.

Since Alberty bought the Clever course in 1988, he’s seen at least 20 golf courses built within an hour’s drive. Over-saturation is a concern, but he remains unfazed.

“We’ve been through the wars before and we know what to expect,” he said.[[In-content Ad]]

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