Country Clubs, Golf Courses, and Plaid Shirts

Jeremy M. Evans

Sports law encompasses many aspects of the law, including real estate issues such as the purchase, ownership, sale, and management of golf courses and country clubs. In running any business, there are always efficiencies and formalities. Finding the balance between a collared shirt versus a plaid shirt and jeans might be your key to success.

In the July/August 2012 issue of the San Diego Lawyer magazine, a golf paradise to some, Van Tengberg, partner in the San Diego office of Foley & Lardner, LLP, wrote a great article entitled “Up to Par” and it included the “Top 10 Legal Issues Addressed in the Purchase or Sale of a Golf Course.” Those 10 issues were:

  1. Title/survey clearance
  2. Environmental reports
  3. Memberships (bylaws, rules, taxes, etc.)
  4. Permits/licenses
  5. Leases/purchase contracts/furniture/fixtures/equipment
  6. Sensitive habitat/wetlands/biological
  7. Structural/heating/ventilation/air conditioning/utility/ADA/termites
  8. Employees/independent contractors
  9. Irrigation water; and
  10. Surrounding community issues.

The above legal tenets and issues still hold true today. Tengberg eagled, or birdied the hole. Here, our focus is on how best to manage a golf course or country club with the legal elements of buying or selling a golf course back in the clubhouse. We have stepped out on to the first nine.

The Main Tenets of Owning and Running a Successful Golf Course

Hole 1. If designing a course, hire the best designer or unless you are sure you know what you are doing, and then do the necessary legal clearances. Also, see Hole 2.

Hole 2. If purchasing an existing course, run through Tengberg’s top 10 list (above).

Hole 3. Hire the best groundkeepers money can buy.

Hole 4. Hire the best course professional that you can afford.

Hole 5. Hire staff that is friendly and committed to the game of golf and its standards.

Hole 6. Host welcoming and ongoing tournaments within the community.

Hole 7. Keep up with the tech and times; update the course as needed, while remembering that classic and simple is elegant.

Hole 8. Location matters in so far as the weather (more people golf in San Diego and Los Angeles Counties than in Cook County, Illinois, for example).

Hole 9. The strength of your course (its beauty, cleanliness, consistency, etc.) will determine your strength in numbers (e.g., patrons).

Hole 10. Making a profit in golf, specifically in golf course management and ownership is very difficult. You must love it first because you are more likely to go broke or struggle financially!

Hole 11. Lure a PGA/LPGA event to your course; you may need to start small and work your way up.

Hole 12. Water in Colorado is easier to come by than in Southern California, but the weather!

Hole 13. Look for a city, country, or state with tax incentives to help you build or maintain a world-class golf course.

Hole 14. Start the pros young; get the youth engaged and committed to your course through tournaments and pricing promotions.

Hole 15. Have retired tour players make appearances and host special events.

Hole 16. Spend a little on marketing and advertising.

Hole 17. Be the best at social media.

Hole 18. Repeat holes 1–17.

When you arrive at the nineteenth hole, back in the clubhouse, like the golf course, it is no place for plaid shirts. The point here is that there is nothing casual about owning and running a successful business. Plaid shirts can be great wearables, but know what you are getting into in advance. Once you have scratched your scorecard a few times with pencil erasers and mulligans, for what it is worth, you at least pursued your love of golf and maybe you were a success at doing it.


Jeremy M. Evans

Jeremy M. Evans is the managing attorney at California Sports Lawyer, representing entertainment, media, and sports clientele.