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Interview: Troon President & CEO Tim Schantz

Troon President and CEO Tim Schantz has more than 30 years experience specializing in corporate and real estate transactional matters, including the past 20+ years focused on the golf and leisure sector. He added the title of CEO of the world’s largest golf management company in 2019 when founder Dana Garmany stepped down and today guides all aspects of Troon’s general business and strategy.

Tim Schantz (Troon)

A member of the NGF Board of Directors, Schantz recently took time to discuss the impact of the coronavirus on the golf industry, investment and opportunity in golf, and the continued growth at Troon, which earlier this year acquired Indigo Golf Partners (and its portfolio of over 160 courses). Troon’s purchase of Indigo followed its acquisitions of Green Golf Partners (May 2019), OB Sports Golf Management (April 2019), RealFood Hospitality, Strategy and Design (February 2019), and Cliff Drysdale Management, the nation’s largest tennis management company, in July 2018. Today, Troon provides managed services at almost 600 locations worldwide.

Golf has seen a resurgence over the past year or so that’s been very much driven by the Coronavirus pandemic. What is your take in terms of the increases the industry has seen in terms of play, participation, engagement and spending?

“First, it’s important to emphasize that the pandemic has been an awful thing, and it’s been difficult for our associates and our clients. But a result from the pandemic, as it relates to golf, is a little bit of the equivalent of the Tiger effect, just coming from a different direction.  And that is people looking for something to do that they perceive to be safe and outdoors. They had the time, were looking for ways to fill their time and golf was in that spot.

When you look at what’s happened in golf, you’ve got a lot more people playing. Some of that is people who were already playing, now they’re playing more. They have the opportunity because they’re working from home or they have more free time… Then you have people getting into to the game. When you first go to play golf, it’s often so hard the first couple of times, so it never really catches for some. If you’re in a situation where there’s not a lot else to do, and you like it, and you invested in clubs, you might be more inclined to keep at it. It doesn’t take long where you flush it and/or find you can do it, and become addicted to it.”

How can golf take advantage of the opportunity at hand and not just assume this is how it’s going to be in years to come?

“Now that we’ve gotten people through the portal, if you will, the answer is pretty self-evident. We have to continue to give them a good experience, make it accessible, make it fun, and make it so it meets their needs. We have to provide high-quality service, which includes conditioning of the golf course at the right level for the facility. That’s something that Troon prides itself on: superlative conditions. But we think we can deliver that super all-around experience.

A lot of golf is being played at the places where the public can go. And then there’s a lot of private golf being played, meaning people are joining, playing, engaging. The private club industry is in a position where for the first time in a long time, a fair amount of clubs have waiting lists and are able to raise initiation deposits. The general story is a positive story. And the theme that we’re all talking about in the industry is, ‘How do we keep it going?’ You keep it going by making sure that the people who were attracted to the game through this horrible thing that happened remain attracted. That’s all about basic customer service blocking and tackling.”

While there aren’t a lot of new golf courses being built given the wealth of supply in the U.S., investment remains exceedingly strong in terms of facility renovations, improvements and upgrades. What are you seeing from your vantage point?

“The declination in the number of golf courses as well as the (limited) number of new golf courses being built really is the macro response to the imbalance between supply and demand. That continues, although there are sprouts of new courses being built, in particular ‘destination golf’ that’s being driven by the things that (developer) Mike Keiser has done. We have a great one in Gamble Sands that’s a client of ours; just an unbelievable place. But really inside what remains, there is a proverbial tidal wave of what you’re describing.

There are places making it through these macro adjustments and are realizing that reinvestment, reinvention and refreshing is not only appropriate but it’s going to help drive success. Across the board, there’s a lot of that going on. Across all categories, all types. Private clubs are full of members that want new amenities and (ownership/management) wants them to be happy. As that demand continues, we’re seeing refreshing and replacing the infrastructure for the golf course as well as all sorts of other things. It’s not just reinvention or redoing golf courses, although there’s a fair amount of that, it’s refurbishment and reinvestment of capital in the existing physical plan.

Schantz (right) with Cliff Drysdale. Photo via Tim Schantz on Twitter

Troon has experienced some significant growth in recent years and is pretty uniquely positioned. What do you see for Troon Golf in the years to come?

“We’re very bullish on the future. We love our business model. We continue to grow organically, which is a fancy way for saying we’re knocking on the door of some places and asking if they want to utilize us to help create a better experience at their facility. We’re doing that now across different products – you’ve got golf, tennis, we’ve got CADDIEMASTER inside of Troon that’s a category of one. Outside of that organic growth, there’s the chance to grow through acquisition and we’ve been successful at that. Indigo Golf Partners was the most recent acquisition, but there were multiple management company acquisitions in advance of that that we really have integrated into the company in a real positive way. And we feel that there’s more opportunity. And there’s more opportunity in the adjacent spaces to append and include inside of Troon, more services and things that will benefit our existing customers, but also expand our reach into the world of golf and golf-related hospitalities. That’s the vision. We’re a brand that provides hospitality services inside this segment where we feel there’s really room to grow. And we’re excited by that.”

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