That's right, accounting. After struggling to fill a key senior accounting vacancy over the course of 7 months, Fox and the Oneida Golf Enterprise Corporation recently retained Lincoln, Neb.-based Landscapes Management Co. (LMC) to handle all golf operation-related accounting services here. The 3-year agreement, made available by LMC through Landscapes Select, its fractional-services program, runs through February of 2020.
While there is little in the golf business (or any business) more banal than accounting, Thornberry Creek's example illustrates its baseline importance† and the growing popularity of third-party management services delivered on the basis of specific need, as opposed to a traditional all-or-nothing approach.
According to Fox, his team at Thornberry Creek lost its senior accountant in July 2016, just a couple months after instituting a point-of-sale package from EZLinks Golf. What followed was a less-than-successful effort to hire another senior accountant with both golf-industry knowledge and experience with the new point-of-sale system.
"Shortly into these efforts to hire, we brought on a local accounting firm to pick up the slack. But they were pricey and only had limited availability; we required much more," Fox says. "With all these transitions and the fact that we do the bulk of our rounds and outings during a 120-day period each summer, our financials sort of fell by the wayside. We looked at hiring another senior account but we didn't want to be in the same position where, if he or she got hit by a bus tomorrow, we're pretty stuck."
The LPGA tournament provided another challenge. The will visit Oneida, just outside Green Bay, from July 3-9, 2017, the first of a three-year commitment. Fox isn't worried about the course, this 27-hole Rick Jacobson design might be Wisconsin's best-kept secret, and it's maintained in championship condition all season, every season. Fox isn't worried about tournament operations, either: Josh Doxtator, PGA Chief Operating Officer for Thornberry, is overseeing tournament operations with IMG, which has been retained to handle event management.
All systems were go. All but one.
"We really needed to keep the LPGA event separate, in terms of accounting, so that we could assess the ROI, and how the tournament affected the rest of our operation," Fox explains. "This was new for us. We're unique in that we're owned by the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, which has provided us excellent support in terms of direction and resources. But we needed to create a whole separate accounting entity, and we needed somebody in here who could handle that."
It was Fox's contact at EZLinks who suggested he look for an outsourced solution. Fox did his due diligence but ultimately went with LMC.† "Our conversations with Landscapes from the beginning seemed very warm and genuine," Fox says.† "I got the impression from the others that they'd have preferred to manage the whole property."
While several third-party managers today offer a menu of fractional or a la carte services, Landscapes Management Co. pioneered this trend back in 2007. In addition to accounting, LMC today offers Select management services in the areas of food & beverage, golf operations & programming, membership development, course maintenance, merchandizing & retail, marketing & sales, event development, and business strategy.
"Fact is, we've been at this a whole lot longer than our competitors and in some cases they are simply not built to provide fractional services, or to effectively compete with us in this way," says Mark Mattingly, LMC's vice president of business development. Mattingly joined the company in 2012 with more than 25 years experience in the field (including a stint with a prominent national competitor in the third-party operations space).
"We centralize the accounting function in our main office, in Lincoln, and that ensures a few key factors," Mattingly continues. "First, we can provide our full accounting suite of services for clubs more cost effectively than they can attempt to achieve in-house. And because we've been doing this for so long, with so many different clubs, there is no accounting matter we have not seen and sorted. We were able to make all that pretty clear to Justin and his team at Thornberry Creek, and that's why we won the opportunity to provide these services."
Fox said he appreciates the fractional services approach because it fills a specific need (at what is a pretty unique property) with established practices to meet those unique needs. The Oneida Nation of Wisconsin didn't develop Thornberry Creek, for example; the Tribe purchased the facility in 2009 as a complement to the hotels and casinos it operates nearby. While Fox is happy to accommodate casino golfers (stay-and-play packages have elevated the facility's resort-golf brand), he's also got a 70,000-square-foot clubhouse that takes 200 staff to administer from a golf operations perspective, roughly three times what average 18-hole facility would require.
What's more, Fox is also obliged to market the facility as its own entity. Thornberry Creek is the official course of the Green Bay Packers and the new LPGA event will further build this separate, golf-specific brand. Hard to argue with the marketing power of 144 professional players competing (on national television) for a $2 million purse, tied for the largest domestic non-major purse on the LPGA Tour. The Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic will also mark the first time the LPGA or PGA tour has ever held a sanctioned event in the greater Green Bay area, or sanctioned an event with a tribal nation.
"We appreciate what Landscapes brings to the table," Fox says, "and we're pleased with the ancillary benefits and options that come with LMC, if we need them."