Golf profits, beer garden, other revenue rebounds boost Lake County forest district's finances

  • The interest in golf when the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020 continued in 2021 and is said to be at its highest level in about 20 years. That helped the Lake County Forest Preserve District earn a $1.3 million profit this year at its golf facilities.

      The interest in golf when the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020 continued in 2021 and is said to be at its highest level in about 20 years. That helped the Lake County Forest Preserve District earn a $1.3 million profit this year at its golf facilities. John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2020

  • The Beer Garden at Independence Grove, a forest preserve near Libertyville, was much more successful than expected. It was created after the preserve's swimming beach was closed.

    The Beer Garden at Independence Grove, a forest preserve near Libertyville, was much more successful than expected. It was created after the preserve's swimming beach was closed. Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserve District

  • The Beer Garden at Independence Grove was created this year to replace a swimming beach at the preserve near Libertyville, which was closed by the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

    The Beer Garden at Independence Grove was created this year to replace a swimming beach at the preserve near Libertyville, which was closed by the Lake County Forest Preserve District. Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserve District

 
 
Updated 12/7/2021 8:24 AM

Golf remained hot for the Lake County Forest Preserve District this season and other facilities rebounded from big losses in 2020 with the help of a new attraction that was more popular than expected.

Golf operations at the district's three courses, which include 36 holes at Countryside Golf Club in Mundelein, will make an estimated profit of $1.3 million this year.

 

That follows a $1.2 million profit in 2020, as golf became a go-to activity as the coronavirus took hold.

"Things exploded in 2020 and 2021 as well," Alex Eichman, the district's chief of golf operations, reported Monday to forest board's operations committee.

The forest preserve and others are benefiting from the best golf industry performance in about 20 years, he said.

Elsewhere, other revenue-producing facilities recovered more quickly than expected, according to Dan Stearns, chief business development officer for the forest preserve district.

Use of the Independence Grove marina, for example, returned to 2019 levels. And a huge surge in customers at Fox River Marina and Preserve produced 38% higher revenue than in 2019, according to Stearns.

For indoor operations, recovery to 2019 levels is expected by 2022, after big losses last year.

Revenue hasn't been an issue for forest preserve golf. It took off in 2020 despite starting six weeks later than usual. Play increased across the board, and high school and junior golf programs and tournaments sold out in days instead of weeks, according to Eichman.

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"It was all just increasing in every category we tracked," he said.

That trend continued and in 2021 was boosted by a six-week head start. Every month this season outpaced last year, except August, perhaps because school was starting and families had again begun to travel, Eichman said.

Golf outings returned to a pre-COVID level and reservations for 2022 are ahead of this year, Eichman said.

Golf operations are self-contained and meant to pay for themselves. The fund in 2019 was $218,189 in the black, but it lost $185,548 in 2018.

"We're going to do some projects all across our golf operations we haven't been able to afford," Eichman said of the revenue windfall.

Elsewhere, the district in 2020 lost $941,000 in facility rental, parking, permitting and catering revenues at three locales.

But revenue is up 64% at Independence Grove, 27% at Fox River Marina and Preserve and 9% at Greenbelt Cultural Center/ThunderHawk Golf Club, Stearns said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Leading the way was the unexpected success of the Beer Garden at Independence Grove, created when the swimming beach was closed. The $140,000 in revenue exceeded expectations fourfold, Stearns said, and netted a profit of $79,000.

"It had a festival atmosphere. We streamed music from the stage to the beer garden," Stearns said.

The return of the outdoor summer concert series drew 12,000 visitors, and another 800 attended live music events at the beer garden in September and October.

Stearns said the transition to paperless licensing, online payment of launch fees and the use of a virtual office at the Fox River Marina increased productivity and customer convenience.

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