IOWA CITY — In hopes of improving the financial performance of its Finkbine Golf Course, the University of Iowa has agreed to pay Indiana-based Green Golf Partners up to $510,000 over five years to be its first outside manager of the championship course.
Green Golf Partners — among the family of brands owned by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Troon — on Jan. 1 took over from the university management and operation of its 95-year-old course, according to a contract provided to The Gazette.
The initial five-year contract extends through 2024, with the option for another five years. The contract also includes the chance for an annual “incentive management fee” equal to 20 percent of the “actual year-over-year growth in positive net operating income.”
Finkbine’s budget has been net negative in recent years — among the reasons UI issued a call for external management proposals last May. Included in a list of evaluation criteria the university considered in choosing a new partner was the supplier’s “plan to improve golf course financials.”
“Each supplier is encouraged to review the golf course financials for the prior three years of active operations and identify areas where it would seek improvement and an indication of how it would propose to do so,” according to the UI request for proposals.
According to those financials, Finkbine was operating in the red for at least the three-year span from 2016 to 2018 — spending $67,285 more than it made in the 2016 budget year; $151,316 more than it made in 2017; and $294,338 more than it made in 2018, according to UI documents.
Its income dipped in every category from 2017 to 2018, with an $82,376 drop in green fees revenue from 2016 to 2018. Expenses and salaries, meanwhile, jumped $73,273 from 2016 and 2018.
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The 18-hole golf course — home to the UI men’s and women’s golf teams — is on donated land on the western edge of campus, stretching 7,200 yards and playing to a par 72. A staffing list made public in May included 10 Finkbine positions, along with several part-time workers.
The UI request for partner proposals asked suppliers to detail plans to “staff the operations of the golf course, including collaborating with the university to evaluate those displaced from UI Athletics positions as a result of this change in management.”
Rob Myers, a spokesman for Troon, which acquired Green Golf Partners last year, told The Gazette that “current Finkbine associates will continue with the facility.” When asked who will pay the Finkbine salaries, UI officials said Troon is responsible.
“Troon will work hand-in-hand with the current Finkbine associates as the 2020 golf season approaches,” Myers wrote in an email. “Troon associates specializing in operations, agronomy, food and beverage and sales and marketing will be on-hand to support and train Finkbine associates.”
Per the UI request for a new managing partner, the supplier will maintain the golf course and adjacent grounds, including the clubhouse’s pro shop and offices, restaurant, bar, kitchen, maintenance shop, storage area, and outdoor seating.
It must stock and operate the pro shop, maintain and potentially replace golf carts, and present a plan for all UI-owned equipment — including its six 20-year-old golf carts.
“Troon will look to enhance an already outstanding golf property through operational efficiencies, proven marketing programs, and hyper-focus on guest service and satisfaction,” Myers said. “Troon is wholly focused on providing a premier golf experience at Finkbine.”
The university is on track to debut a $10 million Finkbine Golf Course clubhouse next month, recently naming it the Nagle Family Clubhouse after Mary Lee Nagle Duda and Fritz L. Duda, of Dallas, who offered a leadership gift for the project.
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The 19,000-square-foot clubhouse features a new pro shop, restaurant and bar, locker rooms, outdoor patio, conference space and storm shelter.
Per the UI-Green Golf contract, signed earlier this month, the university will reimburse its new partner for related expenses for on-site activity — not to exceed $10,000 a year. The university also will reimburse travel expenses.
And the “Finkbine Golf Course” name will remain, according to the contract, which allows the contractor to identify the course as managed and operated by Green Golf Partners, with UI approval.
Over the years, Finkbine has hosted numerous NCAA tournaments and other national events, and Troon Chief Operating Officer Bruce Glasco in a statement said the course “has long been considered one of the top public courses in Iowa.”
Troon, which calls itself the world’s largest golf management company, manages 485-plus 18-hole-equivalent golf courses in 43 states and 31 countries — including Puerto Rico and Australia. The company also manages homeowner associations, private residence clubs, and hospitality venues.
Its family of brands manages more than 35 courses in the Midwest, including four in Iowa — with the addition of Finkbine.
“Troon has a track record of managing some of the top course around the country,” UI Senior Associate Athletic Director Matt Henderson said in a statement. “Troon’s focus on providing a premier golfing experience is exactly what we were looking for as we open the new Nagle Family Clubhouse.”
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