A simple concept that started in 1990 has grown the Arizona-based company into one of the world's finest for course and club management
It was a simple, yet revolutionary idea. The difference between the private club experience and the daily-fee course, in Dana Garmany’s mind, was hospitality-based service. The amount and the level of service and amenities a club member received was typically far superior to that of pay-to-play customers.
In 1990, Garmany began to bridge that gap when he helped build Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, for developer Jerry Nelson and his Japanese partners, who didn’t want any employee liability issues. So, Garmany trademarked the Troon Golf name as a payroll company for the Japanese partners.
Garmany quickly began to sell the concept to other daily-fee courses, eventually managing the facilities with the goal of providing the traveling golfer with a high-quality product and an even greater level of customer service. He almost single-handedly created a new golf course category — upscale daily fee.
Garmany is now a Troon Board member but the people who run the company today are still faithful to Garmany’s vision while, at the same time, taking the concept far beyond its original borders.
Today, Troon is a global golf course and private club management company with more than 725 courses and 750 locations. The company distinguishes itself among 12 individual brands — Troon Golf, Troon Privé, Troon International, Indigo Sports, CaddieMaster, ClubUp, Cliff Drysdale Tennis, Peter Burwash International, True Club Solutions, RealFood Hospitality, Strategy and Design, Casa Verde Golf and ICON Management.
Along with Troon’s Scottsdale headquarters, the company has offices in Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, Virginia, Washington and internationally.
At the time Tim Schantz joined Troon in 1998, the company was managing 10 courses. Since then, the portfolio has expanded practically exponentially.
“We listed all 10 of our locations on fax cover sheets that we prepared for ourselves,” says Schantz, who is the company’s president and CEO. It would take several pages to do that today, even if fax machines still existed. But even as Troon has grown, the idea of a “country club for a day” is still at the core of the mission.
“For sure, we remain committed to the original concept,” Schantz says. “What that really means is exemplary service, high quality product presented day-to-day in a way that's familiar to the customer, even though the customer is a little more transitory than what you might get in a private club where you have the ability to repeat that service.
“What continues to really be strongly true is that we are a service-oriented organization. We have two customer bases: the end user, the people that are enjoying the product that we're helping to provide, whether it’s playing golf, racquet sports or dining. We also have our course owners as our customers. Both are approached by Troon with a service-minded mentality.”
Troon’s growth in the early years was organic, coming from searching out opportunities and knocking on doors. But in 2014, the dynamic changed when private equity firm Kohlberg & Company bought the majority interest in Troon from Goldman Sachs and Starwood Capital. From that point, Troon began to grow through merger and acquisition.
“It’s one of the best things that's happened to us because that led us into recognizing that we had our hospitality management platform, where we had expertise,” says Scott Van Newkirk, Troon’s chief development officer. “But we were missing out on some opportunities because we lacked expertise in other areas. And we went out to fill in the blanks on what we were missing, really with the idea that we were going to acquire that expertise.”
Troon acquired Honours Golf, which gave the company a larger presence in the Southeast. Then CaddieMaster was bought, which focuses on caddie management services. That led to the purchase of Cliff Drysdale Tennis, which brought significant racket sports and fitness expertise. In all, nine companies have joined Troon since 2014 through mergers and acquisition.
“I think as we continue to grow, we continue to round out our offerings through M&A versus hiring a subject matter expert and building it on our own,” Van Newkirk says. “We realize with the private equity involvement that we can get there quickly through an acquisition.”
Leonard Green & Partners bought Kohlberg’s majority ownership in Troon in 2017. And in 2021, TPG Capital partnered with Symphony Ventures — the investment fund of Rory McIlroy — to purchase an ownership position in Troon.
In 2021, Troon made its largest acquisition to date — the purchase of Indigo Golf Partners, which was formerly Billy Casper Golf. The Indigo portfolio included the ownership and operation of 160 public golf courses, private clubs and resorts in 29 states.
“It has opened us up to a significant amount of municipally-owned property where we have a lease relationship or a management relationship that you would classify as a more of a middle market,” Van Newkirk says. “What’s holding true is our commitment to hospitality and quality commensurate with the fee being paid.
“The person who’s spending less still needs to be celebrated and provided an opportunity to have a terrific day, whatever the property. Even though our portfolio mix has changed, I think that's our commitment to hospitality and to deliver an experience for each of our members or guests every day they come to the facility.”
And people have been coming to golf facilities in eye-popping numbers for more than two years, as the game has been experiencing boom times as an unintended and unexpected byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As it turned out, golf was a permittable activity because of the outdoors and ease of social distancing. Daily fee starting times became difficult to get — still are — and private clubs have enjoyed a resurgence, so much that initiation fees are up and waiting lists appeared for even mid-level clubs.
“We were presented a set of circumstances that has really helped to push the sport into a real surge,” Schantz says. “And we think it's a sustainable surge, a new normal. I'm sure that things will level out going forward, but that level is going to be higher than it has been in the past. There were already green shoots for higher participation from a diverse and growing customer base.
“Golf was cool again, if you will. The younger generation was picking it up and Tiger Woods began to have his own resurgence. And then you have this period of time where there just weren’t a lot of things you could do outside the home and golf turned out to be one of them.”
However, what distinguishes this particular upward movement in participation numbers is that it appears that new golfers are sticking with the game instead of coming into the game and leaving it in a short period of time.
“All of a sudden, you break through this sort of period of time where it's easier to quit the game, and you keep at it and then what happens is the epiphany of that magic moment that we're all familiar with when you hit the ball where it's supposed to go in your mind, it feels like you hit it well, you have positive feedback and now the game has grabbed you,” Schantz says.
Part of the future of golf, at least where younger people are concerned, is seen in ways the game is consumed, not just in green grass settings but in places like Topgolf and Drive Shack. McIlroy is invested in a concept called Puttery, a high-end, high-tech take on indoor mini-golf, accompanied by food and drink.
Troon has its own ideas, particularly with its existing facilities. Technology and what Van Newkirk calls the “gamification” of practice ranges and short game areas could help vitalize areas of a facility in ways not usually considered.
“If you look at the NGF (National Golf Foundation) data, it notes the number of people who are coming and experiencing golf in a different way,” Van Newkirk says. “We're bullish on that. We're invested in that. We see it as something that's going to be super important to our company going forward and something for which we believe there's significant demand.”
Among those technology options are golf simulators, which are becoming more popular as an indoor golf option. Troon has plans to open high-end bar environments that include simulators this fall.
“That is all pretty frictionless entry into golf,” Schantz says. “By that I mean, you can wear what you want. You're not feeling quite the intimidation of being dressed properly or new to the golf environment. You can play when you want, and how much you want. I think those things are going to help us create this new normal in the game.”