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New management team, new opportunities at Blackthorn Golf Club

Blackthorn Golf Course will open the 2010 season under the direction of a new management team with long-standing ties to the popular public golf course and to the South Bend area. Kitson & Partners Club Services (K&P) has been selected by the City of South Bend Redevelopment Commission as the new management firm for Blackthorn.

K&P is an international golf management company based in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The company is headed by President Michael C. Rippey, who was instrumental in the development and opening of Blackthorn in the early 1990s.

Given the assignment to restore Blackthorn to the position of market leadership the course enjoyed in its early years, Rippey recruited two former Blackthorn golf professionals, Tim Firestone and Richard Love, to join the K&P team and return to South Bend. Firestone, who is a Director of Operations with K&P, will serve as Blackthorn General Manager, and Love is the new Director of Golf. Veteran Blackthorn golf course Superintendent John Quickstad, and new Food & Beverage Director Sharon Cooper will complete the Blackthorn management team.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our company, with special personal meaning,” Rippey said. “We have worked with more than 100 golf courses since I was involved in the development of Blackthorn, but Blackthorn always has been one of my favorites and something I am very proud to have been part of.”

In addition to the South Bend connections of the two returning golf professionals, Firestone and Love, Rippey noted that K&P Chief Operating Officer Richard Hohman, who will supervise all of the company’s services for the City of South Bend, is a Notre Dame graduate. Hohman is a 20-year golf industry veteran who has had operational responsibility for nearly 100 golf facilities, including 25 municipal courses.

“We selected K&P over several other national golf management companies because they offered the best combination of local market knowledge, and a broad base of national experience with public and municipal golf courses,” explained Donald Inks, Director of Redevelopment for the City of South Bend.

“We also felt that K&P would bring a more strategic, long-range approach to this management assignment,” Inks added. “The Redevelopment Commission liked the strong emphasis that K&P placed on dealing realistically with local market conditions and national trends in the golf industry.”

It is no secret that the South Bend golf market has becoming increasingly challenging in recent years, Rippey explained. He said his company’s top priorities for the 2010 season will be to give local golfers many “new reasons to play Blackthorn” and to re-establish the Blackthorn brand as the number one golf brand in the region.

“South Bend is one of the best places in America to be a golfer, whether you want to play at a municipal course or at a private country club. Including Granger, there are ten quality golf courses serving a population of about 108,000 people,” Rippey said. “That is about 50 percent greater than the national average golf course supply, and it has contributed to fierce competition among local golf courses.”

“Annual revenues at Blackthorn have basically been flat for five years, and that generally has been the situation at every public golf facility in the area … we have a no growth golf environment,” Rippey added. “The reaction from golf course operators, including the four courses controlled by the City of South Bend, has been to become increasingly aggressive on pricing, to try and win the market share battle.”

Blackthorn General Manager Firestone explained that K&P is concentrating much of its marketing efforts on causing more golf to be played in South Bend, not just on stealing rounds from other golf courses with discount pricing.

“We can promise that Blackthorn will be a tough and creative competitor, but one of our major marketing themes for the 2010 will be cooperation,” Firestone said. “For example, we have launched a variety of new frequent player programs with the three golf courses operated by the South Bend City Parks Department.

“We also are offering a new joint membership with the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame, and we are especially excited about Blackthorn’s new All-Inclusive Annual Membership, which includes everything from greens fees to range privileges, plus membership privileges at South Bend’s Summit Club throughout the golf season.”

Firestone said a new bar has been installed in the Blackthorn grill room, which will re-open for 2010 under the name “McSorley’s at Blackthorn,” part of a new corporate sponsorship program with the brewers of McSorley’s Irish Ale.

South Bend’s long-standing golf merchandise brand, Bobick’s, will fly a new flag over the Blackthorn pro shop beginning in 2010, as well as at the pro shops of the Elbel and Erskine Golf Courses owned by the City of South Bend.

All these initiatives are directed at giving South Bend golfers more reasons to play more golf, K&P President Rippey explained. “If we can build the market and increase Blackthorn’s share of the market at the same time, we will be able to break out of the five-year no growth cycle and start building a stronger revenue base for Blackthorn. That’s what we were hired to accomplish, and we’re going to give it everything we have.”

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