It’s becoming difficult not to notice a new golf powerhouse in the area: Brown Golf.
It bought its first course, the struggling Pinecrest Golf Course, in March 2011. Just six years later, Brown Golf owns or operates 30 golf courses in four states, including six in Bluffton and two on Hilton Head Island.
“I’ve been in the golf business since 1978,” CEO John Brown said. “I was a golf professional, then manger, then general manager. I was working for Troon Golf out of Scottsdale when I decided to start my own company.”
Troon had a couple of courses in the Lowcountry, so that is where Brown started to look for courses to buy as the Great Recession settled in. He found Pinecrest, and then bought Island West. Eagle’s Pointe and Crescent Pointe quickly followed, as well as courses in Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
“Golf was in the tank at the time and there were many, many properties for sale at great prices. We took advantage of that,” Brown said.
Brown Golf first managed Rose Hill. The company also took over management of Dolphin Head.
Most recently, a venture capital firm offered to sell Palmetto Hall to Brown, including its two courses, Arthur Hills and Robert Cupp, which were being managed by the Heritage Collection.
Since then, Brown has concentrated on boosting service and activities for members.
“We are a value-oriented company. Through our portfolio, there are various levels of value,” he said. “There is housing on all of them from $200,000 to more than $1 million. It doesn’t matter how wealthy your member is, everyone is looking for a value in golf. And they want good service and good food.”
Brown said he can provide the amenities at a lower price than single owners because Brown Golf has a template it can take from place to place.
“We cross-train everyone and we have good vendor relationships. We also can move equipment and golf carts from place to place as needed,” he said.
For example, when a single club has to aerify fairways or greens, it might have to close the course for a day or two. “We can do it in a few hours because we have the resources to throw at it. Therefore, we lose less revenue.”
But Brown stressed that service and excellent course conditions are their first priorities.
“The golf courses are going to be in really great condition. Even with our lower-end public courses, they are in great condition.”
Brown Golf operates several ways. It owns and operates a course or it leases the course, manages it or offers consulting for others.
“Most of our success comes from owning and operating. We have skin in the game,” Brown said. “We have to make a profit at our own properties. That’s not the case with all management companies. They get their fees no matter what.”
Other area golf resorts welcome the new competitor.
“Given the great reputation the destination has, I’m sure they are striving for the same things we are: good conditions, great customer service and return customers,” said Clark Sinclair, director of golf for Palmetto Dunes.
John Farrell, director of golf for The Sea Pines Resort, wishes the company well.
“I want only good things for them,” he said.
Farrell said he hopes Brown Golf continues the tradition of Southern hospitality for which the area is known.
Brown recognizes the impact his company’s quick rise has had.
“We have changed the dynamic of golf in this area,” said Brown, a resident of Hampton Lake who visits at least three of his clubs every day. “I have people coming up to me and thanking me for keeping golf affordable and helping them have a great retirement. We’re charging what we think is a fair price and we’re making money doing it.”