How to Start a Golf Course
According to Golf Digest, more than 20 million people in the United States golf. Golf courses provide these people with a place to play the sport. Most courses are 9 or 18 holes, and they may have other amenities, such as clubhouses and pro shops.
Learn how to start your own Golf Course and whether it is the right fit for you.
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Start a golf course by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Golf Course
- Form your Golf Course into a Legal Entity
- Register your Golf Course for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Golf Course
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Golf Course
- Get Golf Course Insurance
- Define your Golf Course Brand
- Create your Golf Course Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
We have put together this simple guide to starting your golf course. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What will you name your business?
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Golf Course Name Generator
If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
What are the costs involved in opening a golf course?
The costs associated with opening a golf course are significant. The largest upfront expense is usually land, as courses can require 200 acres of land or more. Other major expenses include:
- designing the course itself
- preparing the land and building the course
- installing an irrigation system
- acquiring or constructing a building for a clubhouse
One couple in New York built their own course, which they expect to cost $1.5 million by the time all 18 holes are installed. A third of their budget ($500,000) went towards land and a building. Additionally, this couple cleared the land, designed the course and built the holes themselves, which kept costs down.
Business owners who don’t have the skills or time required to do all of this work should be prepared to spend significantly more.
Because building a golf course is so expensive, many business owners opt to purchase one instead. Purchasing an existing business is sometimes cheaper, and it’s often perceived as less risky because the business already has a history. The Golf Course Market maintains lists of courses that are currently for sale and ones that will soon go to auction.
What are the ongoing expenses for a golf course?
The ongoing expenses for a golf course business largely consist of maintenance fees for the course and any buildings on the property. In 2016, the average course budgeted $750,000 for these expenses. This figure doesn’t include employees’ salaries, which could be an additional several hundred thousand.
Who is the target market?
A golf course’s ideal customer is an affluent golfer. Such a person enjoys the sport, and they have the money necessary to go golfing regularly.
How does a golf course make money?
A golf course business’ primary product or service is course fees, which golfers pay to play the course. These fees account for a significant portion of a business’ revenue, but they are far from the only source of revenue. Some other things golf courses sell are:
- golf clubs and other equipment
- food and beverages
- club and golf cart rentals
How much can you charge customers?
According to Golfweek, most privately owned golf courses charge an average of $40 per round with a cart on the weekend. Weekday prices tend to be slightly lower.
Some courses, however, charge significantly more. For instance, courses built since 1990 charge $60.55 per weekend round on average. Furthermore, some well-known courses, such as ones where PGA championships have been played, charge hundreds of dollars per round -- up to $495.
How much profit can a golf course make?
In 2015, 69 percent of golf courses broke even (24 percent) or earned a profit (45 percent). The profitability of these courses varies greatly, depending on their location, prestige, fees and amenities. Some just barely broke even on the year, while others brought in sizable profits.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Golf course businesses can add additional revenue streams and increase profits by hiring golf pros who offer lessons, putting in a pro shop that sells equipment, installing a driving range adjacent to the course, or having a restaurant on site.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your golf course is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
You can form an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN through the IRS website. If you would like to learn more about EINs, read our article, What is an EIN?
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a golf course business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Release of Liability
To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, golf courses should have their clients sign a release of liability. Here is an example of one such form.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional release of liability form for your golf course business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.
Certificate of Occupancy
A golf course is generally operated on a large acreage of land, with a clubhouse run out of a small shop. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a golf course.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or construct a golf course and clubhouse:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your golf course will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
FInd out what types of insurance your Golf Course needs and how much it will cost you by reading our guide Business Insurance for Golf Course.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a golf course
Golf course businesses can be effectively marketed through social media and online advertisements directed at area residents. Purchasing advertisements on local sports radio stations is another effective way to raise awareness of a course.
How to keep customers coming back
Golf courses can set themselves apart from other courses in their area by having more challenging holes. Because existing courses usually aren’t able to change their course layouts, this is an opportunity that business owners who do open new courses -- and, therefore, get to design their courses’ holes -- can take advantage of.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.
Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
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Is this Business Right For You?
Anyone who is well-versed in a variety of aspects of business and enjoys golfing themselves may be qualified to run a golf course.
It’s important to have a broad business background, because golf courses are multi-faceted businesses. Running one might encompass:
- maintaining holes, including making decisions about irrigation and mowing
- hiring and managing employees
- running a clubhouse, which may have a restaurant
- creating programs for golfers and running tournaments
- deciding what capital improvements to invest in
Having previous golf experience helps owners make decisions that will most improve the experiences of their course’s customers.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a golf course?
During the golf season, there are lots of day-to-day activities that must be done. A few include:
- watering and mowing fairways, roughs and greens
- collecting course fees from golfers
- repairing broken-down equipment
- attending to any golfers who need assistance
Capital improvements, non-emergency repairs and routine maintenance are usually made during the offseason.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful golf course?
Business owners that build a golf course from scratch should be familiar with golf course design. Even if they hire a golf course architect to actually design their course, it’s still helpful to know a little about the subject. Having this basic knowledge will help a business owner know what questions to ask and what advice to take from an architect. There are many books on this subject, such as The Golf Course and Golf Course Architecture.
All business owners, regardless of whether they’re building a golf course or purchasing one, should be familiar with how courses operate. There are several resources that business owners can learn from:
- The National Golf Course Owners Association hosts the Golf Business Conference and has an informative forum for golf course owners.
- The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America has educational resources on environmental issues and maintaining courses.
- There are also many books on owning and running golf courses, like The Complete Guide to Course Management and The Business of Golf.
What is the growth potential for a golf course?
Most golf course businesses have just one location, but a single location might contain several 9- or 18-hole courses. For instance, Pine View Golf Course has two courses, the Championship Course and the Executive Course. The Golf Club of California is an example of a business that has just one course.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a golf course?
While it may be tempting to try and reduce design, construction or irrigation fees, business owners should resist cutting back in these areas. Golfers often seek out the most challenging courses, and skimping on a course’s design or construction could hurt its long-term success. Not having a robust irrigation system can also prove detrimental, as it can leave fairways and greens dry and brown during times of drought.
How and when to build a team
Running a golf course requires a sizable team of employees. Golf Course Industry reports that the average course’s maintenance staff consists of 17 employees, which includes six year-round employees, ten seasonal employees, and one part-time employee and / or independent contractor for odd jobs. This doesn’t take into account additional employees that are needed to collect course fees, operate restaurants or provide lessons.