GreatLIFE renovation increases play, draws national attention


This piece is presented by GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness.

Operations weren’t going badly at Bakker Crossing Golf Course several years ago, but the owners knew they could be better.

“Our course had always been able to cash flow, but we were looking for ways to increase our market share,” said Donn Hill, who designed and opened the course in 2002.

They hired a consultant and then an architect “to see how we could improve it to get more play,” he said.

The improvements, combined with the power of joining GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness, have been so successful in growing play at the course that they landed the Bakker Crossing case study on the cover of the fall issue of By Design, a publication from the American Society of Golf Course Architects.

“The results at Bakker Crossing are impressive,” the article says, noting rounds grew from 26,000 pre-renovation to a record 43,000 last season.

“GreatLIFE would have grown it anyway, but not without making these changes,” Hill said.

What changed

The biggest conclusion after studying the course? It was too hard for the typical player.

“We needed to make it so the average player could get around without losing golf balls because it was a very difficult course. It still can be,” Hill said. “So we wanted to make it easier for the average player and maintain the challenge for better players.”

That involved moving some water features so they were out of the way for less-skilled players but still a challenge for those who wanted to take them on.

The analysis also determined Bakker Crossing needed “something distinct that nobody else around here had,” Hill said.

He and architect Kevin Norby agreed to focus on bunkers.

“At first, I couldn’t see how that could be a big deal, but by the time we got done and selected a style of bunkers, it became an integral part of what Bakker Crossing is,” Hill said.

South Dakota’s reliable wind can make maintaining sand splashed up in bunkers difficult, so the new design is deeper. The bases are flat, and the faces are lined with timbers at a 45-degree angle, so they’re visible to golfers.

“It’s really been a tremendous addition,” Hill said. “They’re a good challenge for more experienced players but playable for all.”

While the renovation was in motion before Bakker joined GreatLIFE, it meshes perfectly with GreatLIFE’s philosophy.

“It’s very much what we do,” said Hill, who is GreatLIFE’s president. “We want to make the game appealing to people and address golf’s main challenges: it’s too expensive, it takes too long, and it’s too hard. Whatever we can do to remove those obstacles for people, we do. And course design addresses many of those barriers.”

Bakker isn’t done improving, either. Next season will bring a return of the longer grass it was known for in its early years – “the kind of grass that makes it fun to play,” Hill explained.

And GreatLIFE will continue to evaluate additional needs at that and every course it works with to deliver the best experience for players at all levels.

“Golf courses need to change because the game changes too,” Hill said. “We’re committed to investing in our courses and providing the best experience around for our members. Bakker Crossing is a perfect example of how that can be a win for everyone.”

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GreatLIFE renovation increases play, draws national attention

Operations weren’t going badly at Bakker Crossing Golf Course several years ago, but the owners knew they could be better. They improved so much, a national golf magazine took notice.

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