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John Reitman

By John Reitman

For Steven Scott, buying a golf course during a pandemic pays off

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After leasing the property since 2012, Tracy and Steven Scott (below right, signing loan papers at the bank) bought Persimmon Hills Golf Course in Sharon, Tennessee, during a global pandemic, and he's been busy ever since..

As the world was on the verge of a global health crisis that has influenced the course of history, Steven Scott was in an unlikely place - in a bank securing a loan to buy a golf course.

Last March 16, just days after "coronavirus" entered popular vernacular, Steven and wife Tracy signed papers to buy Persimmon Hills Golf Course, the daily fee facility in Sharon, Tennessee, that Scott had been leasing for almost a decade. They closed on the loan in early June.

010721persimmon1.jpg"I don't think we got to that point of panic," Scott said. "Everybody was scared. We didn't know how this was going to work out. We didn't know that people's jobs and lives were going to be on the chopping block, much less who was going to be on it. We asked ourselves, 'We're going to get through this, right?' ' There is another side, eventually, right?' We thought everything has to get back to normal eventually. We were hedging our bets on normal."

A 2007 graduate of the University of Tennessee-Martin golf and landscape school, Scott has been leasing Persimmon Hills since 2012

Whatever reservations he and his wife had about signing those bank papers to buy the property quickly were put to rest.

After the first few weeks of the pandemic period, golf in Tennessee, including at Persimmon Hills, has been very busy.

Through November 2020, the most recent data available, rounds played in Tennessee were up nearly 22 percent, which is outpacing the national average by about 8 percent. Compared with 2019, paid greens fees at Persimmon Hills were up a staggering 56 percent and member sales increased by 25 percent, Scott said.

"We were banking on just doing as well as we had when we were leasing the course. We thought we can make a living doing this," Scott said. "We were not expecting the huge bump we got."

Even when the Scotts decided they wanted to buy the property outright, getting a bank to OK the deal was not automatic.

As a superintendent, I spent all these years leaning on other superintendents for help. . . . As an owner, I find myself leaning on accountants and lawyers. I had one accounting class in college. I could have had five and it would not have been enough.

"The way our lease was structured, it was lease to own," he said. "Every rent payment was going toward the previous owner's mortgage and any equipment payments he had. My buyout was whatever it took them to get out of debt. Some banks told us that we had to keep paying down their debt for a few more years. We finally found the right bank to make it happen."

Scott believes being a superintendent gives him a leg up on some of his competition, where operators come from the club pro side of the business. Especially at what literally is a mom-and-pop operation.

"We don't have any frills. The golf course is our product," he said. "So, being the best conditioned golf course is how I make money. It's how we market ourselves. We don't have tennis courts or the biggest clubhouse, but we have the best playing conditions in this area."

The 55-year-old clubhouse building is getting a renovation that Scott said is 40 years overdue, and future plans include a golf simulator to help drive revenue throughout the winter months.

There is much about owning and operating a golf course that Scott did not learn in college.

"As a superintendent, I spent all these years leaning on other superintendents for help," he said. "Thanks to social media, I can pick their brains and get help for whatever I need. As an owner, I find myself leaning on accountants and lawyers. I had one accounting class in college. I could have had five and it would not have been enough."

Although he has to be educated on tax and zoning laws and concerned about safety issues for employees and guests, Scott also remains focused on the core of his business.

"We offer a fair golf course for a good price, and we are going to keep it that way," he said. "The course has been here since 1965, and we hope to keep it here another 55 years."

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