By Sara Carbone, Content Writer, CollectiveSun
A version of this story was originally posted on collectivesun.com.
The golf industry has experienced difficulty for a while now. A number of courses around the country have been struggling to stay afloat in recent years due to issues like significantly reduced corporate support and decline in play. In the United States, the number of private golf courses and country clubs has decreased steadily over the past decade, and there has been a string of municipal golf course closings as well. All this means that clubs need to be creative in order to stay in business.
Solar energy can be a good outside the box solution for struggling golf clubs. A contributor for the Club Management Association of America blog notes, “In today’s economy, where every penny of a golf club manager’s budget is scrutinized…when bottom lines are tightening and every dollar counts, solar panel technology can be a ray of light for a club manager.”
Solar contractors and their sales and marketing teams should consider focusing on the golf industry, given how much it can benefit from what solar has to offer. There are a number of reasons why golf clubs around the country are going solar, something contractors can keep in mind when targeting them.
Lower electric bills
The clearest way to attract golf courses is to appeal to their desire to lower high operating costs. A primary concern of most clubs is to keep the course looking good. Carl Ford, president of the Venice East Golf Club Association, states that “a golf course should be two things: be playable but it should also be eye candy to an avid golfer.” This means regular watering, a significant expense for the average 18-hole course. Therefore, a club often goes solar to lower the electrical costs associated with irrigating their course.
So far this year commercial electricity costs in the U.S. have ranged between 8-20 cents per kilowatt-hour. Tracy Golf and Country Club had a PG&E bill that averaged more than $100,000 annually before they went solar. Over the lifespan of their newly installed solar system, savings are expected to reach $1.8 million. Club managers will be impressed that solar would allow them to maintain their courses’ upkeep at significantly reduced cost.
Avoiding unpredictable electricity prices
Like most commercial entities, golf courses have to contend with the unpredictable nature of utility pricing. Make a prospect aware of how solar can help. New Jersey’s Hidden Creek Golf Club annual energy consumption costs had reached $130,000 for 630,000 kilowatt-hours and their local utility company was able to increase these charges without notice. Given that solar prices stay the same, the club’s new solar system now functions as their hedge against future electricity price escalation.
When Xanterra Parks and Resort’s Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch Resort, a golf course in California’s parched region of Death Valley, went solar, one-third of their power source was then “disconnected from an energy market that’s prone to spikes.” They are now able to accurately predict their significantly lowered electrical costs, something contractors can point to when looking to attract golf club prospects.
The benefits of being a sustainable business
Another solar selling point for golf clubs is going solar can help fulfill their mission to be sustainable and influence public perception. Furnace Creek Golf Course in California felt that solar technology was in line with their desire to operate a resort in harmony with a number of their conservationist practices. “Environmental sustainability is important to everything we do here in Death Valley,” said Joel Southall, the club’s director of environmental health and safety. The club’s parent company exists in and around national and state parks and going solar has helped adjust government officials’ perception of golf “as an elitist activity that’s environmentally unfriendly.”
Louisiana’s The Island installed a 60-panel solar system that accounts for 25 to 30% of their electricity needed to run pumps, heat and cool the clubhouse, and charge carts. Glen Clouatre, general manager and director of Golf says that when they add an additional 32 kilowatts worth of panels in the near future, “this time we’re going to put the panels in a place where they’re visible, so that everyone will know we’re using solar.”
Whether or not a prospect seeks to make their system visible on the course, emphasizing the benefits of being a green business can go a long way towards enticing a golf club to go solar.
Significant cost savings for nonprofits
A golf course with nonprofit status has access to special financing benefits, something that can be a particularly attractive selling point when discussing the feasibility of solar for a prospect. For example, working with CollectiveSun, an organization that specializes in helping nonprofits and tax-exempt organizations fund solar projects, means that a club can apply tax credits that reduce the cost of a solar contractor’s bid. A golf club seeking to go solar affordably can choose to do so using a number of CollectiveSun’s options: donations, reserves, bank loans, Program Related Investment Loans (PRIs), Property Assessed Clean Energy loans (that are repaid as an assessment on a nonprofit’s property tax bill), and CollectiveSun’s CrowdLending platform, a direct loan between a nonprofit and its supporters.
Working with CollectiveSun also means tapping into their expertise around shepherding a system installation from start to finish, including assisting with solar project management. The financing options and support available to nonprofits, coupled with factors like a significant drop in solar cell prices, have made going solar much more attractive for golf clubs.
There are a number of reasons golf clubs would consider solar when looking for ways to stay afloat. “It makes me feel good knowing that we are helping the environment and cutting back on our expenses,” says Lila Purcell, general manager of the Venice East Golf Club in Florida.
And there are some who take an even bigger leap outside the box when looking for solutions. Northport Creek Golf Course in Michigan was the first course in the country designed and built to be 100% solar-powered. While this is not a typical scenario, it is the kind of thinking that may help some clubs in America flourish in a difficult time. A knowledgeable solar contractor and their sales and marketing team can help a golf course recognize solar as their key to financial and environmental sustainability.
Sara Carbone is a content writer for CollectiveSun, developing educational content to help solar companies work more effectively and help nonprofits understand the benefits of going solar. She also has her own freelance copywriting business creating tailored content for solar marketing campaigns based on several years of experience researching the industry and working with solar contractors around their pain points and goals.