Up to Par

Nawaz Hirji has turned the once-failing Eaglequest Golf Centers into a thriving coast-to-coast course owner and operator

“I look at golf as a business first and game second." —Nawaz Hirji, President
“I look at golf as a business first and game second.” —Nawaz Hirji, President

Nawaz Hirji has never spent so much time on his knees praying. Since acquiring Eaglequest Golf Centers Inc., the investment-management professional has taken to making pleas for less precipitation. After all, it’s pretty much the only factor Hirji hasn’t been able to improve in the company that he bought and brought back from a state of disarray.

In 2003, troubled with dissension and uncertainty, Eaglequest was the leftover from a public company that had gone into receivership. So, despite having no background in course ownership and only casual experience with golf, Hirji decided he could use his knowledge of the hospitality industry to see him through a successful turnaround of the business.

“I look at golf as a business first and game second,” Hirji says. “I knew with some engineering we would make Eaglequest into a positive business decision and a profitable one.”

In the hotel business, Hirji’s objectives involve pleasing customers, providing good food and beverages, and creating a memorable experience. He realized that the same approach at golf courses would be the winning combination to bring the struggling Eaglequest back to life.

“The biggest measure of confidence is putting your money where your mouth is,” Hirji says. This is why one of his first commitments was in capital investments.

After selling a dome and a driving range that were losing money and acquiring the Grandview Golf & Country Club—the company’s first championship course—in Halifax, Hirji cut the company down to a lean six facilities. He resolved issues with suppliers, and he invested in all manner of course improvements, from irrigation systems to banquet hall upgrades.

The Road Ahead

A look at what’s around the bend for Eaglequest

1. Capitalizing on the potential of facilities and staff: “We want to constantly educate staff on various trends in business and empower managers to make decisions on that information. We will keep them informed by hiring outside professionals to speak to them on topics in which [the professionals] have expertise.”

2. Getting a better return on investments: “We plan to look into every department to see how we can improve and offer better service.”

3. Acquiring new facilities: “We want to consider adding some golf courses that are in similar locations to those currently in our portfolio and which will create synergy for our golfers. By that, we mean that golfers will be able to have common memberships among our courses.”

4. Looking into housing development: “We have land on two of our golf courses that is available for development. Possibly as a joint venture, we are considering building homes on one of them.”

Equally important, however, were Eaglequest’s people. In order to maximize his staff’s potential, Hirji has been educating them on more than the logistics of running their respective facilities. Recently, he brought in Canadian golf authority James Cronk to speak about the industry and give staff the context necessary to make sound business decisions and better understand Hirji’s vision for the company.

Calling upon his experience in other ventures, Hirji also implemented a yield-management model, which raises and lowers values on tee times throughout the day and week to reflect changing demand. “It’s a model that’s still not prevalent in Canada,” Hirji says, “but we wanted to use it because it helps us control inventory better and maximizes our return on high-demand tee times.”

The one thing Hirji hasn’t been able to control is the weather. Golf is typically a cyclical industry in Canada, one that sees its peak in the summer months, with relative hibernation in the off-seasons. Not satisfied with that schedule, Hirji has taken matters into his own hands and extended the season by offering covered, heated stalls at three of Eaglequest’s driving ranges. “Even though we generate less revenue in the winter,” Hirji says, “it’s still more profitable than a pure golf model.”

Hirji’s shake-ups might be just the right medicine for an industry that has hit a plateau recently in Canada. With the number of golfers shrinking and with demographics shifting among young golfers, Hirji says his plans for growth need to include business strategies that will appeal to women and millennials.

“Younger golfers want to come to the course for fun rather than for the kind of serious game the generation before them prefers,” Hirji says. “We have to change our attitude and our amenities if we want to attract them.” That means shortening courses and providing top-notch services and opportunities such as women’s leagues to encourage participation.

“The idea is to make your customers happy and satisfied,” Hirji says. “So long as we make that our guiding principal, Eaglequest will only continue to thrive and grow.”