JEKYLL ISLAND, GA. | By spending $14 million on upgrades and closing one of its three 18-hole golf courses, Jekyll Island could cut its losses, but it would still not be profitable, a consultant told the state-owned island’s governing board Monday.

 

In laying out potential plans for the Jekyll Island Authority Board, National Golf Foundation consultant Richard Singer told the Jekyll Island Authority board, “You have a lot to be proud of, but you have some work to do.”


See Also


That work includes upgrades to two of the three 18-hole courses and the single 9-hole course and some immediate work on the Jekyll Island Golf Club clubhouse. Jekyll Island has a fairly new convention center, park and retail center, all overlooking the ocean, and has made deals resulting in new hotels, all in the past few years.

“Now you’re at the point,” Singer said, “the golf club doesn’t match that.”

The most recent improvements to golf came 16 years ago when Jekyll Island rebuilt its Pine Lakes 18 and, since then, the remainder have languished. Singer described the golf club staff’s work in keeping the courses in shape as heroic considering the lack of investment.

He recommended that Jekyll Island not even consider closing the 9-hole Great Dunes course, which overlooks the ocean, but to upgrade it. Singer said that there is a market for historic courses - it was built about 100 years ago - and that golfers would come to Jekyll Island just to play Great Dunes if it is upgraded and marketed.

With Great Dunes, Jekyll has 63 holes, and Singer said, “That’s a lot to manage … We have some concerns about that.”

He recommended that Jekyll keep Oleander, which many golfers consider the island’s signature course, but close it for a year for renovation and push play to the Indian Mounds and Pines Lakes courses.

While Oleander is closed, Jekyll Island could experience managing two 18-hole courses and then could decide whether to combine holes from Indian Mounds and Pine Lakes into a single 18-hole layout, he said.

If Jekyll keeps things as they are, it would have a base loss of $850,000 a year; upgrading and keeping 63 holes would reduce the loss to $515,000 a year; maintaining 45 holes would cut the losses to $173,000, he said.

But before anything else is done, the clubhouse must be upgraded.

“You’re working out of a facility that may be better suited for one golf course,” rather than three, he said.

Great Dunes has its own small office, but unlike the clubhouse, has no merchandise or food sales.

Jekyll Island is losing out as new courses have been built nearby and old ones improved as the number of golfers declined, he said.

The recession changed patterns on how “golf is consumed” and the old ways haven’t returned. Hurricane Matthew also reduced play on Jekyll in 2016, he said.

Jekyll Island is unlikely to ever make a profit off golf, as is true of municipal and other publicly owned facilities nationwide, but getting out of golf is not an option, he said.

People who come to Jekyll Island and visit other resorts expect golf to be part of the experience, and visitation would drop without it, Singer said.

Board Chairman Mike Hodges asked, “Why not close Oleander?”

Oleander has some intriguing problems including environmental issues, but it helps provide variety, Singer said.

“It’s probably the best of the three [18-hole courses], but it’s probably the most neglected of the three,” he said.

Indeed, in past years when play dropped off, Oleander was closed through the summer and brought back into shape during the fall. But that proved to be too expensive so it’s maintained all year now.

Jekyll Island Authority Executive Director Jones Hooks recalled some tougher times on the now greatly improved island.

“When the facility was down and out, it would have been difficult to improve golf,” Hooks said.

Regardless of what the authority decides to do, it won’t all be done quickly.

Hooks said he is a fan of “phasing options” and market conditions may change in a way that could impact decisions, Hooks said.

As the board met, there were some out-of-town visitors on Jekyll Island who said they were drawn by the warm weather and the golf.

Otto and Phoebe Meijer said they come for a month each year from Woolcott in upstate New York and play three or more times a week. They were preparing to play Great Dunes, which Phoebe Meijer called, “A nice little course. It’s great it’s just nine holes.”

Otto Meijer said he’s glad he’s allowed to walk because many courses in the area require players to rent carts.

“Walking gives you a little time to reflect,” he said.

Arnold Polk was playing with fellow Canadians Keith and Sharon Lawrence.

“It’s difficult. It’s not a par 3,” Polk said in comparison to the shorter chip-and-putt courses.

Sharon Lawrence said she likes the way the weather starts off cool then warms as they walk the course sheltered by the high dunes on the east side.

“I enjoy walking it,” Polk said. “I don’t know why these people play it with carts.”

They ticked off a list of other things they do on the island - hiking the trails, walking along the beach and bicycling - but all three said they wouldn’t come if not for the golf.

Monday, the board just listened to Singer’s presentation.

Hooks said the entire study will be on the Jekyll Island website, jekyllisland.com, within a week for anyone who wants to see it.

Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405