Fore! Golf courses see record-breaking year

Photos by Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Dwight Slocum and Jim Blessinger, both of Jasper, watched the path of Blessinger's shot Wednesday morning at Buffalo Trace Golf Course in Jasper. The pair used to work together at Kimball International and would play golf after work. But now that they are retired, they play in the mornings at Buffalo Trace.


JASPER — Golf Director John Bertges keeps seeing business at Jasper’s two municipal golf courses increase.

Each month, he gives a report to the Park Board regarding the month’s business, and this year has been breaking records. So far this year, business at Buffalo Trace Golf Course on the city’s north side is up $70,745 over 2016, and Ruxer Golf Course next to the Riverwalk is up $5,199. Bertges attributed the success to a variety of factors, including nice weather and a healthy economy.

“Those are things we’ve been blessed with this year,” he said.

He also credited the courses’ staff and superintendents, Phil Volz at Buffalo Trace and Mark Mehringer at Ruxer. The courses have been kept in good shape this year, which Bertges said helps golfers get through games more quickly and contributes to a better overall experience for golfers. The staff reopened the driving range at Buffalo Trace, as well. Bertges has also heard compliments on the customer service in the pro shops. Attention to detail in customer service can keep players coming back, Bertges said.

“If you can do the little things — a little more ice in the coolers, attention to detail on the courses and be friendlier in the pro shops — those (core) players may make a couple more stops at your courses through the season,” he said.

Bob Bottorff and Pat O'Keefe, both of Jasper, traversed Buffalo Trace Golf Course on Wednesday morning in Jasper. "For a municipal golf course, it's the best I've ever played," O'Keefe said about Buffalo Trace.

Bertges recognizes that people pay for golf out of their disposable income and that he’s competing with other leisure activities for those dollars. With that in mind, he brought a new fee schedule to the park board earlier this year that added a few membership packages and lowered fees for week-day play. As municipal golf courses, offering a good value is a priority.

Perhaps the biggest factor in the increased business is the educational opportunities the staff have added. Since the city hired Bertges in 2014, participation in youth golf programs has increased significantly, which he figures led to more adults playing the courses, too.

“Since we’ve had more junior golf, we’ve had more parents out there playing,” he said.

Bertges also goes to area elementary schools to lead The First Tee program in gym classes in an effort to introduce kids to golf, and he makes it a priority to schedule camps around other athletic programs’ schedules.

Kids aren’t the only ones who can take workshops at the city golf courses, though. The staff also hosts adult golf camps and clinics.

“According to National Golf Foundation, one of the top complaints among golfers is it’s too difficult to play,” Bertges said. “You simply have to practice to get better. We now have many programs available to help golfers achieve more success in their game.”

Ron Arthur of Monroe City, from left, John Horton of Washington and Tony Burnside of Pennyville watched a shot Wednesday morning at Buffalo Trace Golf Course in Jasper. The three are part of a group that made the trip to Jasper to play a game at Buffalo Trace.

So far, the efforts of Bertges and his staff seem to be working. This year, business at both Buffalo Trace and Ruxer has surpassed the average of the last three years combined by $41,105 and $7,256, respectively.

The additional revenue will go back into the golf courses, although what exactly will be improved is yet to be decided.

Some of the thoughts are a new awning and pro shop carpet at Buffalo Trace, as well as improvements to the driving range and some of the holes. There’s also been some discussion of adding foot golf — golf played with soccer balls and feet instead of golf balls and clubs— to Ruxer’s lineup during off hours.

Regardless of what the funds go to, the focus will be making golf accessible to all of Jasper’s citizens. As Bertges said, “Golf is a sport you can play for a lifetime.”

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