The Board of Directors at Fox Hills Golf Course has retained Lincoln-Neb.-based Landscapes Management Co. on a 5-year contract to operate the city-owned 9-hole track, now in the midst of a remarkable transformation.
Forty years ago, Fox Hills debuted as a 9-hole course with sand greens, serving a population of some 1,200 residents. In 2010, hefty oil deposits were identified nearby, and the local population swelled to more than 15,000. Many of those people were temporary oil-industry hires, but the permanent population of Watford City has now stabilized at approximately 7,000 and continues to grow at a much slower pace. According to Fox Hills Board member Dave Johnson, “the oil industry is still adding 1,000 wells a year to this area.”
Local infrastructure here in this western North Dakota community is determined to keep pace with this growth — in the form of new hotel rooms, new restaurants, a new community center, a new high school — and Fox Hills GC is no exception. In 2016, after a few stops and starts, the Board recommended, the club’s 400 passholders voted in favor of, and the City ultimately authorized an expansion of the facility.
Landscape Management Co.’s parent firm, the course construction experts at Landscapes Unlimited, has since fully shaped and will soon seed 12 brand new, championship golf holes set beside the original nine. These new holes, designed by Kevin Norby of Chaska, Minn.-based Herfort Norby Golf Course Architects, will open for play in the spring of 2018.
Phase II of the project will see the closure of the original nine, the creation of six more championship holes, plus an expansive practice facility, to complete the on-course transformation.
“Landscapes Management Co. [LMC] has been hired to manage the off-course transformation, in addition to all operations going forward,” said Tom Everett, LMC president. “What’s happening here is pretty extraordinary, but there are a lot of moving parts. The Board has entrusted us with making them all work together, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
LMC (www.LandscapesUnlimited.com) provides operations and management services to more than 40 different golf courses, private clubs and resorts nationwide, as well as internationally. Fox Hills GC is one of seven golf facilities to secure management services from Landscapes Management Co. in the last 12 months. Others include:
* Butler’s Golf Course, a daily fee operation outside Pittsburgh, Pa.;
* Tippecanoe Lake Country Club, a private, member-owned club in Northern Indiana;
* The Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley, Ariz.;
* Avoca Golf & Country Club, a city-owned facility in Iowa;
* Lanhai International Golf Club, a 36-hole private club in Shanghai, China, one of a growing number of projects Landscapes Management Company operates outside North America;
* Winchester Country Club, a private equity club in northern Virginia; and
* Thornberry Creek at Oneida, a resort property in northern Wisconsin.
“We’ve been struggling for quite a while with how best to handle daily management at Fox Hills– even for the original 9 holes we had for many years,” Johnson explained. “Five years ago we expanded the clubhouse and turned it into a year-round restaurant, which required a whole new level of management expertise. We struggled to find the right process, systems and personnel.
“For example, one person might be able to run the restaurant but didn’t know golf operations — and if he or she knew golf, they didn’t know food & beverage. We couldn’t find the right person to do it all. Finally the board came to conclusion that one person could not do it all. It was also clear that with 18 holes, day-to-day operations would only grow in scope — well beyond the capabilities of a volunteer board, to be honest. And there was the marketing aspect to consider, once the new 18 was finished. It just seemed awfully clear to us that we needed a management company with a full team of experts to be successful.”
Most everything about the Fox Hills project is unique. It started out as a privately organized, 9-hole, daily-fee loop with sand greens. In the 1980s, Watford City provided a re-use water supply that enabled a transition to grass putting surfaces. In return, the local golfers who administered Fox Hills donated the course to Watford City, which then deputized a volunteer Board of Directors to run Fox Hills on a non-profit basis, though not a 501C-3.
LMC has contracted with this Board of Directors, now chaired by Wayne Olson, to operate what is essentially a semi-private club with some 400 passholders.
“One of our biggest challenges became clear when all these people came to town,” said Johnson, a former Board vice chairman. “They all had the impression that this was some kind of private club, that it wasn’t for everybody — when it most certainly is for everybody. We need to get out and better market that fact to the public.”
Everett echoed that sentiment, adding that LMC plans to widen the marketing effort once the new holes are playable next year.
“There’s a real strong local customer base here, but the Board feels (and we agree) that it’s feasible to market Fox Hills to golfers within a 200-mile radius of Watford City,” Everett said. “This community is growing but others are growing all around us. Williston is about 50 miles away. Locals certainly travel to play the Bully Pulpit course in Medora, which is 90 miles away. Bismarck, the biggest population center in North Dakota, is 180 miles away.
“When we’re finished with the new 18 holes, this is easily going to be a top 5 course in the state. The oil boom has resulted in the development of hotels here, good restaurants… We think Fox Hills is well positioned to serve both the local market and a short-stay destination golf market.”