Duncan buys troubled Dayton course
DAYTON – Home again.
When Tom Duncan bought the financially troubled Dayton Valley Golf & Country Club this past spring, it brought him back to a place he ran from 1991 to 2001.
“I’m thrilled to be here,” said Duncan, who also owns Wolf Run in Reno and The Links at Kiley Ranch in Sparks. “This is a great piece of property. You couldn’t ask for a better amenity. It’s as fine a course as there is.
“Our goal is to make sure the people coming out to play, that we give them as good an opportunity to have fun as they can. Their experience is important to us. That will help in the success in the operation. It’s important that you care for individuals. It’s how I was raised.”
When Duncan says that, you can believe him. He has an outstanding reputation in the golf course community. He is well liked by his peers and members alike.
“Obviously he knows how to run a golf operation,” said Larry Windsor, who lived on the course for many years and plays on a regular basis at Dayton. “At Eagle Valley, he did a phenomenal job, and then he came here.
“He wanted to see it (the golf course) continue. He has a personal sense of ownership. He didn’t want to see anything dire happen to it.”
Rick Vaughan, the head pro at Dayton since the mid-90s agreed.
“The biggest difference is we’re treating the golf course as a business on its own, not just an amenity for the homeowners,” Vaughan said. “Business savvy for golf is important. Tom is very fair to his customers; charges a fair price.
“Tom’s philosophy is that everybody should pay the same price whether they are locals or live out of town. We’ve had a lot of people come out here to play who haven’t been here for a long time. All the comments have been very positive; a lot of comments about it being the best value in the area. Tom knows golf and he certainly knows this place well enough.”
Certainly Dayton Golf & Country Club didn’t pan out like its previous owners had hoped. The real estate market went south, and there are big, empty fields across the street from the course that were never developed. There are houses that sit empty. That’s how bad the economy is.
When Duncan purchased the course, that’s all he purchased. He has nothing to do with real estate around the course, and that’s probably a good thing. His goal is to improve play at Dayton and also get the food and beverage sales up.
“I understand what we have to accomplish,” Duncan said. “Our goal is to get between 35 and 40,000 rounds of golf out here, but not over 40,000. We were at about 17,000 last year.”
“Forty thousand is the magic number,” said Tom’s son, T.J., who is director of operations. “You have to make sure you maintain the product.”
One of the first things Duncan & Co. did was lower the green fees. The cost is $40 seven days a week, including a cart. Through the month of July, twilight starts at 1 p.m. and the cost goes down to $30. If you only want to play nine holes, it’s $25.
That’s a far cry from when the course first opened green fees were nearly $100 on weekends. The new ownership knew that economic times had changed.
“We wanted to be competitive with what they were offering in Fallon, Yerington and Fernley,” said the younger Duncan. “We can only charge what the market will bear. We have to make it affordable.”
“Forty dollars is a fair price compared to a lot of courses,” the elder Duncan said. “You are getting a lot for your money.”
Windsor said the move to $40 was a smart one.
“His logic was very good,” Windsor said. “People had forgotten what a great golf course Dayton is. When the media tour came out here, guys were amazed that you could play for $40. I think they’re going to continue it into next year.”
Location is something that probably hurts Dayton Valley to a degree. Courses like Silver Oak and Eagle Valley are visible from the freeway, whereas Dayton is tucked three miles down the road off Highway 50.
“People from Reno and Tahoe have to drive by a number of courses before they get to us,” Vaughan said. “We don’t have the population in Dayton to support the course.”
Hence the aggressive marketing plan of lowering the prices to get more people onto the golf course.
Vaughan also said that the course has a tracking system now in place so they know exactly where their customers are now coming from after receiving a phone number upon check-in.
The course also is doing some selected advertising which wasn’t done under the previous ownership.
“The best advertising is still word of mouth,” T.J. Duncan said. “People enjoy their round out here and they’ll tell their friends. That’s how it gets spread.”
Obviously the Duncans would love to grow the membership at Dayton. It currently sits around 100.
“I’d like to see it get up to 150,” the elder Duncan said. ‘We have to continue to work on that.”
The cost for membership is $242 a month for an individual and $292 for a family.
“We haven’t done any kind of promotion,” Vaughan said. “It’s $242 a month with a cart. There’s no food-beverage minimum and no initiation.
“Some people use it differently; use it as more of a social thing. They use it as a way to socialize and make new friendships.”
T.J. Duncan said there are members that will play 20 rounds a month and others that play five or six a month. He said it’s all in what you want out of it.
Once again this year PGA Stage 1 qualifying returns for its 16th, and Vaughan has been around for everyone. Jim Kepler and the elder Duncan were on staff when the tournament first came to Northern Nevada.
“We had to approach them originally,” the elder Duncan said. “They came out and viewed the course. They liked it.”
Each year the course gets raves about the condition of the layout. Credit for that goes to superintendent Kay Berntson, who was on staff when Duncan ran the course in the 90s.
Vaughan said there is one change coming this year. The par-4 14th, which winds around water, is being lengthened by around 20 yards.