Golf club a model of success

Defying trends at other golf facilities, the Whitefish Lake Golf Course marked a good season this year.

“It’s been a real solid year for us,” Terry Nelson said. “While other courses in the state and region have seen a 15 percent decrease.”

Nelson, executive secretary of the Whitefish Lake Golf Association, said the Whitefish course offers a unique experience that draws players both locally and from the region. Despite a slow June with cold and wet weather, the course had a busy July and August.

“This season we’re right on budget,” he said.

The course averages about 16,000 people every summer ‚ that’s about 600 golfers on both courses per day for 10 hours per day.

The course’s proximity to Canada, second homes in Whitefish and the city’s other amenities have combined to keep that number on track the last three years. Add to that a number of tournaments ‚ the recent Member-Guest tournament drew 196 players ‚ and player numbers have remained up.

“We’ve stayed steady the last three years even with the downturn in the economy,” Nelson said. “We’ve been able to maintain membership.”

Whitefish Lake Golf Course is a 36-hole golf complex with two courses. The great course combined with a membership cost of roughly $500, Nelson said, makes Whitefish a good deal.

“People chose to take advantage of the best facility for the best value,” he said. “The fees here are exceptionally low. For local people I don’t think there’s a better deal in the U.S. or anything as good in the region.”

As a non-profit, the Whitefish Lake Golf Association leases the course from the City of Whitefish and manages the facility. The association then contracts with others to run portions of the course like its pro shop and restaurant.

This arrangement allows the golf association to focus on providing the best service and golf while relieving the city of potential financial strain if the course didn’t perform well.

“Whitefish Lake Golf Club is being used as a model of success while other courses struggle to survive,” Nelson said.

He said he’s spoken with several courses in the state interested in this type of operation.

The association has used its success to reinvest in its facilities. Improvements in the last few years have included restoring the log clubhouse, the remodel of hole No. 2 of the North Course in 2005, a new driving range facility, a new outside services center and deck in 2008.

This week the course expects to begin construction on a new maintenance building with a new employee area and updated shop area.

“A lot of cities try to run their courses and they have to put money into them,” Nelson said. “With the lease, the city doesn’t have to do anything. They don’t have to have any capital improvements. A lot of municipal courses are struggling, but we’re doing well.”

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