There were changes needed at the Battleground at Deer Park Golf Course; changes that would affect playing conditions and profitability to the city-owned course. On May 29, Touchstone Golf assumed management and operation of the course, driving range and clubhouse/banquet facility.
Already changes aimed at course conditions and offerings for non-golfers at the course are taking shape.
Tom Barrett, course general manager and Rodney Crow, golf course superintendent said improvements to the course have already begun to make the Battleground at Deer Park one of the state's premiere public facilities.
"Our ultimate goal is to make this course the talk of Texas," Barrett said. "It's an excellent facility and it has a unique brand that brings unique opportunities."
He said the course is on track to come a bigger asset to Deer Park while becoming self-supporting and even a contributing member to the community.
Much of that can be accomplished by providing golfers with a healthy course where they can expect consistent play.
"We have to provide an excellent and consistent playing experience whether they play here in March, June or October. When golfers play here, we want them playing on the same course so that they tell their golfing friends about their experience," Crow said.
The city and Touchstone's agreement is for 10 years with four renewals of five years each. Per the agreement with the city, Touchstone will pay the city of Deer Park $5,000 per month to lease the course. The city will also receive a 3 percent of golf merchandise and food and beverage sales and 5 percent of golf-related sales generated by all the facilities. These percentages will escalate over the initial years of the agreement beginning in year two.
In year two, the city will receive 33 percent of the 3 and 5 percent sales agreements. In year three, that number will rise to 66 percent of the 3 and 5 percent total. In year four and going forward, the city will receive 100 per cent of the 3 and 5 percent of sales total.
Among the first projects for the course under Touchstone's management was to reorganize maintenance of the course, Crow said, followed by work on the course's greens.
"There were some agronomic aspects of the course that we needed to address and they are already making a difference," he said. Maintenance crews recently performed a deep-tine aerification on the greens.
"The concern was that the greens were hard and would not hold shots. We had to improve the base health of the turf. You start at the greens and work your way back because that is where the majority of the game is played."
Crow said course conditioning is improving dramatically, and with that comes a more consistent course.
"In the past, one week you would come here and the roughs were six inches and the next they were two. We're changing that so that golfers know what to expect. We are working to make this course healthy from the roots up while being efficient with our resources," he said.
"We want it to be the course that its members and community are proud of. A consistent course is one that is fair to the high handicapper and challenges the low handicapper. When that happens, people start saying good things about your course," said Crow.
Crow said the next big course maintenance project will be leveling the tee boxes as many of them are what he called "turtle shelled," or curved.
Barrett said Touchstone signed a long-term agreement with the city because it has a long-term vision for the development of the course. Part of that development is focused around the training facility across Georgia Avenue from the clubhouse.
"One of the unique aspects of this course is the training grounds in that not a lot of courses have what we have in Deer Park. There's a driving range, three-hole practice course and a chipping and putting greens," Barrett said. "This facility naturally caters to player development and we need new players."
He said the number of rounds played per year nationwide has been steadily decreasing.
"But we can reverse that trend in Deer Park. We see long-term opportunity to develop new players and bring them onto the course," he said.
Barrett said the course's PGA Professional Daren Heflin is working non-stop on developing training programs that benefit the experienced and novice golfer.
"He's working on creating more golfers and teaching them the sport at a nominal cost. Golf doesn't have to be an expensive sport and you don't have to be good at it to have fun. Daren is a great instructor who is committed to helping people enjoy the game," Barrett said.
So far, it seems to be working. Barrett reported that rounds played at the Battleground at Deer Park has increased in the months Touchstone has managed the course. He said the course has opened its tee sheet earlier, uses popular third-party tee-time services and moved its twilight time from 3 p.m. to 2 p.m.
"To be successful, we have to improve the value perception to our guests, whether you are a member or someone visiting," Barrett said. "The product has to be better and that product is our golf course."
"We want our membership base to feel appreciated. We're enhancing our service standards, improving the cleanliness of the facility, increasing events for them to participate and other things to improve that value perception. This is a great facility and after someone plays our course, we want them to remember and talk about how great their experience was so that they come back and bring more friends," Barrett said.
The experience to the Battleground at Deer Park is not just limited to golfers. Touchstone has plans to update the clubhouse and banquet facility. Monthly events featuring dining and evening entertainment are also planned.
"There's a lot of improvements that non-golfers can experience too," Barrett said.
Barrett said the course managers are also working with charity groups to help increase their profitability when they host tournaments and events at the Battleground at Deer Park.
In the meantime, Barrett and Crow said the maintenance projects on the course are going to have an immediate impact, not just on playability, but on perception as well.
"This course is something to be proud of and talked about," Barrett said. "When people come here, we want them to remember the great experience they had at the Battleground at Deer Park Golf Course and the only way to do it is for us to make that experience great."