East Sioux Falls gets own version of country club

Sioux Falls Business Journal
June 3, 2015
By Jodi Schwan

Photo: Elisha Page/Argus Leader

The east side of Sioux Falls now has its own version of a country club, according to Tom Walsh, CEO of GreatLife Malaska Golf & FItness.

“It’s a country club that we open to the public is the bottom line,” he said. “It will rival any country club.”

Willow Run Golf Course opens its new clubhouse this week, and it’s packed with amenities.

Combine that with the massive upscale Bluffs at Willow Run apartment project connected to the complex, and the area clearly is in the midst of a transformation.

GreatLife changes fitness landscape

Walsh bought Willow Run in 2012. He has steadily improved the course, most recently adding a three-hole practice area and making a number of holes “even more grandiose,” but the clubhouse makes a big statement.

“I’ve completely lost my mind. I just shake my head,” he said. “It is so fabulous. I never, ever dreamed it would turn out this well,” he said.

It’s two stories, with a nearly 8,000-square-foot fitness center, an indoor pool and whirlpool, a banquet area for 200 people, multiple patios and a full-service bar and grill – The Willows Food & Spirts at Willow Run.

“What we’re trying to do out there with the neighborhood is bring an upscale pub, food-type atmosphere,” said Mike Fodness, director of food and beverage. Fodness was the founding general manager at Foley’s and has worked at Callaway’s and The Country Club of Sioux Falls.

The menu for The Willows includes more than one dozen appetizers, sandwiches, pizzas, soup, salads and other entrees.

“I’m not trying to do a huge menu mediocre,” Fodness said. “I’m trying to do a nice upper-scale pub menu and do it well.”

The restaurant will be open daily and can seat about 100, including the space on its deck.

It’s also an amenity being marketed for potential residents at the adjacent Bluffs apartments.

The 161-unit project is on schedule to open half of its apartments in September. The units range from one to three bedrooms and include expansive views. Early tenants can help customize their units, said Craig Lloyd, CEO of Lloyd Cos., the project’s developer and property manager. Amenities include granite countertops, underground parking, individual garages, a guest suite and a GreatLife membership.

On a typical day, 180 people are working on the construction site. The first units will be available to view in July, but the project already has attracted a mix of young professionals and downsizing older adults, Lloyd said.

“I can’t believe we’re renting right now, but we are,” he said.

“There’s no other place in South Dakota you can live, that I’m aware of, that you can have a four-star golf course, great restaurant, a controlled environment. It doesn’t exist. It’s a lifestyle,” Lloyd continued. “It’s probably not for everybody, but if you like activities and you like to be part of something bigger than anything I know of in the city, it’s going to be a really nice place.”

Willow Run is Now Open

Experience the Premier Golf Experience

When we set out to bring our members the premier golf experience at Willow Run Golf Course, we didn’t hold anything back. But we had no idea how amazing this project would turn out. We’re happy to report that the results have exceeded even our ambitious expectations.
With a stunning new clubhouse, renovations to the course and impressive new amenities, we’re proud to announce that the course and clubhouse are now open, and better than ever.

Here are some of the highlights about our renovated indoor and outdoor spaces:

The Clubhouse

  • Brand new 16,000 sq. ft. clubhouse
  • Full Restaurant & bar
  • Pro Shop
  • 8,000 sq. ft. of fitness space
  • Two decks overlooking the golf course
  • Banquet room with seating for 200
  • Indoor pool and Jacuzzi – coming in September

The Course

  • Expanded driving range with four target greens
  • Three-hole practice area
  • New split fairway on Hole 17
  • New cart paths, tee boxes and bunkers throughout the course
  • Extensive landscaping
  • Two new restrooms – coming soon

According to Jason Sudenga, Director of Golf, “We are so excited to be open again. It was definitely worth it. Our members and guests are going to be so thrilled when they experience the new Willow Run. It’s better than ever.”

If you haven’t played the new Willow Run, schedule a tee time soon, or just come out and take a look around, enjoy a meal and some sunshine on the deck, or work out in the club. There’s no need to go anywhere else to get the best in golf and fitness.

More Improvements at Willow Run

Despite the much needed rain, the weather lately has allowed for another productive week on the course at Willow Run. Check out the photo gallery to see the latest pictures of the progress being made. The sodding process starts today, beginning with hole 17 before moving on to the short-game practice area and eventually the driving range.

Living the GreatLIFE

Living the GreatLIFE

By: Jim Dunlap

April 16th, 2015

To view the full C&RB article by Jim Dunlap, click here.

A new model that combines golf and fitness memberships at extremely affordable rates is proving to be an especially attractive mix of recreational offers.

Golf, and more recently fitness, are continually championed by country clubs as key components of a great life. So it makes sense that clubs flying the banner of GreatLife Golf & Fitness would be a hit. And when the two amenities are paired for one very affordable price, with no initiation fee, the surprising thing is that the business model hasn’t been tried before—at least to the magnitude that GreatLife CEO Rick Farrant and his team have achieved in such a short period of time.

The Kansas-based GreatLife parent company was essentially dabbling in golf as the owner of three modest 18-hole golf courses in 2000, at the very apex of the last major wave of U.S. golf course development. Shortly thereafter, course owners began to feel the pinch of increased competition from newer and more elaborately amenitized properties.

In 2003, Farrant and his partners acquired their first fitness center, and began thinking that if bought, marketed and priced right, the package deal of golf and fitness could be a perfect way to attract cost-conscious families and individuals to both activities. Today, GreatLife’s corporate entity operates 25 locations, after recently taking the first giant step toward franchising its concept by teaming with Sioux Falls, S.D., entrepreneur Tom Walsh and his partner, Mike Malaska, to form GreatLife Malaska Golf & Fitness. That entity now owns five courses and eight fitness centers in the Sioux Falls region, with over 11,000 members and “affiliate” relationships with another 15 golf courses, where GreatLife members can play for as little as $10.

Farrant and Walsh are now shopping their franchising concept to owners and operators in other parts of the country, utilizing the proven track record of the GreatLife business model, along with the franchising expertise that Walsh developed in developing a portfolio of Burger King locations.

In some cases, GreatLife purchases golf clubs that have an existing fitness facility and improves upon both; in other cases, if a nearby off-site fitness center is available for purchase or lease, GreatLife will incorporate use of that facility into a membership.

In every case, GreatLife buys smart, acquiring courses or fitness centers that are either in bankruptcy or have become available at below-market prices. And whether it’s the golf or the fitness operation that’s struggling (or both), GreatLife has discovered that offering what is essentially a two-for-the-price-of-one proposition creates a much more attractive picture.

Healthy Appeal

By any standard, the price for using GreatLife facilities is reasonable. Individual golf/fitness memberships are available for as little as $30 per month ($40 for a family) at the most affordable locations, Farrant says, with the company’s most expensive location charging a monthly fee of $450. There is no initiation fee, and members pay only a cart fee if they use one when they show up, no matter how often they play.

“People ask us all the time what the catch is,” Farrant says. “The only catch, if you want to call it that, is that the monthly membership fee is pro-rated for an annual year, so people don’t just join for the busy golf months and then drop out.”

Both Farrant and Walsh are committed to utilizing the GreatLife model to promote not only healthy and wholesome family activities, but participation in golf. Both the GreatLife and the GreatLife Malaska courses offer free, or extremely low-cost, golf clinics for families, adults or juniors. With time typically cited as the biggest obstacle to playing more golf—or playing at all—GreatLife members can stop in any time and play only a few holes without feeling obligated to “get their money’s worth” by having to make it through nine holes or a full 18, as they are pre-paid for the year.

The company has the track record to back up its faith in the golf-fitness combination. Farrant points out that “six to eight” of the company’s current locations were either closed or in bankruptcy proceedings when GreatLife acquired them; all are open today. On the fitness side, Farrant said that a YWCA fitness center in the Topeka, Kan., area was losing $15,000 a month when GreatLife brought it into the fold. It now operates in the black—and as Farrant notes, that means it can continue its support of other community programs.

As for Walsh and the GreatLife Malaska entity, since aligning with GreatLife the three courses that Walsh’s group owned or managed in 2014 have registered first-year increases of better than 46 percent in rounds, over 28 percent in revenue, and over 24 percent in food-and-beverage sales.

Holding Their Interest

Including golf in the package also helps to lower the traditionally high attrition rate at many fitness centers, the GreatLife executives contend. “The fitness center turnover or attrition rate nationally is around 40 percent a year,” Farrant says, “so you end up having to turn your membership over every year and a half or so. But if you have golf too, people are less likely to give up their memberships.”

Beyond their success to date, Farrant and Walsh hope to spread the GreatLife gospel to other parts of the country through their franchise program. In addition to the growing appeal of the GreatLife brand and helpful operations and marketing advice from the parent company, the nearly unbroken record of GreatLife success may carry the day to help prospective course buyers secure needed loans.

“Nine times out of 10, it comes down to financing when someone is trying to buy a course,” Farrant says. “One of the big things we bring to the franchise situation is our track record. If a buyer can show his lender what he plans to do, and how he plans to do it, and can then show what we’ve done, there’s a lot better chance that he’ll get the financing he needs.”

What’s Happening at Willow Run

You know golf season is here when The Masters is on TV and you’re hearing that wonderful theme song by Dave Loggins. With that in mind, we thought it was time for an update on the progress at Willow Run.

We’re moving full-steam ahead on our brand new 16,000 sq. ft. clubhouse with restaurant, bar, pro-shop, two decks overlooking the golf course and a banquet room that seats up to 200.

The fitness center will be 6,000 sq. ft. with a group classroom, pool and jacuzzi. I must say it looks AWESOME!

Everything is on schedule and we cannot wait to get everyone out to see it!

Along with the clubhouse we will be doing some extensive improvements to the golf course. These are the projects we will be working on this Spring:

  • Renovating the driving range to increase the length while improving the drainage. The range will consist of a fairway with four target greens along the side of the fairways.
  • A brand-new three hole practice area that will be located between 17, 18 and the driving range.
  • Storm detention pond between holes 7 and 8.
  • Clearing out all of the trees on the right side of the creek on hole 17 to create a split-fairway.
  • New cart paths on holes 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17 and 18.
  • New restrooms on hole 6 and between holes 12 and 13
  • New tee boxes on holes 1, 8, 10 and 17
  • Adding three bunkers behind hole 9 green.
  • Extensive landscaping around the clubhouse to enhance the esthetics of holes 1, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
  • Most of the course will be sodded with some areas that we will seed.

With all of these renovations to the golf course and clubhouse, we feel it is best to let the contractors have complete access to the course with no interruptions.

We have set our target date to open the golf course on June 1st. The driving range and short game area will be closer to July 1st.

This project is going to elevate Willow Run to be one of the best facilities in the region. We want our members and their guests to experience Willow Run at its entirety.

Bakker Crossing, Central Valley, Dell Rapids and all affiliate golf courses are great options to play while Willow Run is shut down. We improved the cart paths at Central Valley and built restrooms in the area of holes 3, 5, 13 and 15. Dell Rapids is open with cart paths and came through the winter very well.

We are sorry for any inconvenience, but trust me it will be worth the wait!

Jason Sudenga, Director of Golf

Introducing The Malaska Golf Online Learning Center

Fix your dreaded slice.

Add more distance.

And save $20 on Mike’s first book, I Feel Your Pain.


Promo Code — GLSAVE20

In the 2015 golf season, will you fix your slices and distance forever? Take a lesson from the former #1 player in the world? Or follow an innovative new path from beginner to scratch golf? It’s all made possible with GreatLIFE and their director of instruction, Mike Malaska.
Mike Malaska is bringing his decades of teaching experience to GreatLIFE members with the Online Learning Center.
As part of your GreatLIFE membership, you’ll have free unlimited access to the learning center for the entire 2015 season. We’re offering a sneak peek this week, as Mike fixes your slice and adds more distance to your game.
Mike was the PGA Teacher of the year in 2011. You may have seen him on the Golf Channel last week, helping golfers around the country with his renowned ‘uncomplicated’ teaching. Now Mike is bringing his decades of teaching experience to GreatLIFE members with the Online Learning Center — so that he can help you, and all our members, have a chance to become among the best golfers in the country.
Unlimited access to the golf course. And now, unlimited access to the best instruction in the world. This truly is the Great Life!
Follow this link for a special sneak peek. Mike will be fixing the dreaded slice, and adding more distance to you game, with a series of videos from all parts of the Online Learning Center.
P.S. – Also take a look at Mike’s first Book — “I Feel Your Pain”. Take advantage of the GreatLIFE discount of $20, using promo code GLSAVE20. It’s the perfect compliment to Mike’s teaching, and to your golf game.
Here’s to the GreatLIFE in 2015.

2015 Symetra Tour Schedule Features Most Events in 27 Years

Schedule features largest total and average purse in 35-year history of Tour; Seven new events added for 2015

Daytona Beach, Fla., February 5, 2015 – The Symetra Tour, the Road to the LPGA, is excited to unveil its 2015 schedule. The top up-and-coming professionals from around the world will compete in 23 events, the most in the last 27 years. The schedule also features a total purse of $2.73 million, the largest in the history of the Tour.

Since 2013, the Tour schedule has grown from 15 events to 23 events and the total purse has jumped from $1.65 million to $2.73 million. A total of 16 new events have been added since 2012.

“I’m pleased to announce a schedule that affords our aspiring LPGA professionals an opportunity to play more times, for more money, on better courses with a better geographic flow,” said Chief Business Officer, Mike Nichols. “This year we took another big step forward in continuing to make the Symetra Tour a first-class proving ground to identify the next generation of LPGA stars.”

The 2015 season begins the week of Feb.16-22 with the Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona and runs through the Symetra Tour Championship the week of October 12-18.

Players will once again be competing for ten 2016 LPGA Tour cards determined through the Volvik Race for the Card money list. The top ten money earners following the Symetra Tour Championship, the week of October 19-25, will earn LPGA Tour cards.

“The Symetra Tour is experiencing impressive growth, not only with events and purses, but also with the demand among top players wanting to be Tour members,” said LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan. “It’s exciting that players from the US and all over the world, now come to North America to play a full tour schedule, compete against strong fields on great venues, and have the ability to play their way onto the LPGA Tour.”

The 2015 schedule features seven brand new events. Five of the seven events have been announced and two more will be unveiled in the near future. The five announced events are the Tullymore Classic in Canadian Lakes, Michigan, the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino Classic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the GreatLIFE Sioux Falls Challenge in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Toyota Danielle Downey Classic in Rochester, New York and the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout in El Dorado, Arkansas.

There are 16 returning events including the Decatur Forsyth Classic, which enters its 31st year of play in Decatur, Illinois.

The schedule also includes the redesigned Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial, which will feature a Symetra Tour event played concurrently with a Legends Tour event, pairing young stars with LPGA Hall of Famers like Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley and Beth Daniel. The tournaments will take place in Fort Myers, Florida at Cypress Lake Country Club, the home of Patty Berg.

In an ongoing effort to closer replicate the LPGA Tour experience, there will be five 72-hole events in 2015, an increase from two in 2014. The Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial, Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic, Toyota Danielle Downey Classic, GreatLIFE Sioux Falls Challenge and the Symetra Tour Championship will all be four round events.

The Symetra Tour will once again have a strong presence in the state of Florida. The third event of the year is the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic at Lake Wales Country Club. After a two-week break in the schedule, the Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial starts the week of April 13-19 in Fort Myers followed by the Guardian Retirement Championship at Sara Bay in Sarasota the week of April 20-26.

The state of Michigan has become a home for the Symetra Tour with three events in 2015. The FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship at Battle Creek Country Club returns for a second year the week of June 1-7. The Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass Golf Club in Harris returns for a fifth year the week of June 22-28. The newest event in the state is the Tullymore Classic in Canadian Lakes the week of June 29-July 5.

The busiest part of the schedule starts with the Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic in Greenwood the week of May 4-10. The Mission Health Wellness Classic at Country Club of Asheville is the following week and then the Symetra Classic in Charlotte rounds out a three-week stretch. After one week off, the Tour heads to the Midwest for five consecutive events. The Symetra Tour will play eight of nine weeks between early May and early June.

There are now five events sponsored by Potawatomi Nation tribes with the addition of the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino Classic at Brown Deer Park Golf Course in Milwaukee. In 2015, the Potwatomi Cup will award a minimum incentive based bonus of $50,000 to players that perform best at the five Potawatomi events.

Quick Highlights

  • The last time the Symetra Tour had more events on the schedule was 1988. The 2015 schedule is the first to feature over 20 events since 1989.
  • 16 new tournaments have been added since the end of the 2012 season.
  • Total tournament purses are up 72% over the last two years.
  • There are five four round events, up from two in 2014.
  • The Tour will visit a record 14 different states in 2015.

Media Contact: Bret Lasky, Coordinator, Symetra Tour Media,
Phone: 386-679-1292

GreatLIFE Updates: A Successful Year One

Story provided by
Troy Klongerbo  

Announced on December 11, 2013, almost exactly one year ago, the GreatLIFE Malaska Golf & Fitness Club reports a successful year one.

Starting with 3 golf courses, a couple of fitness centers and a dream of changing the Sioux Empire golf scene, they ended 2014 with 12 courses in partnership, 5 fitness centers and plans for even more expansion in 2015. GreatLIFE General Manager Donn Hill is happy with their first year.

“This year has been a great success,” said Hill, in a phone interview last week. “Golf overall is in a bit of a decline, but rounds at GreatLIFE courses were up 48%. That’s something we’re proud of.”

With focuses placed on families and fitness, GreatLIFE was able to generate record numbers of couples, children and women at their facilities.

“We are shattering the old model for golf,” explained Hill about the program’s infrastructure.

“We appeal to a much larger audience with fitness and family centered activities. Through it, we are broadening the appeal for golf so now, it appeals to everyone. And GreatLIFE can also help these people achieve healthy lifestyles.”

With affordable, family, fitness focused golf, the perception of the GreatLIFE model was to “rack up golf courses” and let them just run themselves. The opposite is true.
The number of renovations to GreatLIFE related golf courses and fitness centers have made noise throughout the region.

Facility Improvements
Willow Run, which announced hosting the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge for next fall, is shaking everything up. They are improving almost all elements of the club.

First, the new practice facility. It will feature a new short game area with 3 greens, bunkering and the ability to hit 100 yard pitch shots. The putting green will be re-vamped. They will also be completely restoring the driving range. The new driving range will be visually more appealing while better protecting the holes surrounding it.

Also to be added, are “The Willows,” a 160-unit apartment complex adjacent to the golf course.

These changes are made in congruence with a brand new, 16,000 sq. ft clubhouse to be completed by next April/May. The old clubhouse was torn down in the fall. The clubhouse will feature 2 levels, with the lower level containing the fully-loaded fitness center. They also have plans to host a full-service restaurant within the clubhouse.

Next year, Willow Run has future plans for a 9-hole short course across the street.
In its 3rd year of renovation, all bunkering changes are complete at Bakker Crossing. Water hazards were also repositioned for a more playable golf course. In 2016, Bakker Crossing will be working to add a short course, similar to the one being added at Willow Run.

Central Valley GC in Hartford, SD also is undergoing upgrades. New cartpaths along with an added storm shelter and restroom facility. Re-shaping of certain tee boxes will give the course a fresh look come 2015.

In regards to the fitness center improvements, Woodlake Athletic Club will have brand new addition. Plans to enclose the pool and build a large training area, new childcare area and a new women’s locker room are underway. They will be converging the two existing locker rooms to make up the men’s locker room. GreatLIFE has added a new kids area called “The ZONE.”

Courses Added for 2015
GreatLIFE is always working to expand their impact and give golfers the opportunity to play more courses at affordable rates.

This fall, they were able to reach agreement with Worthington Country Club in Worthington, Minnesota– a 60 mile drive from Sioux Falls. It will be fully accessible for GreatLIFE members come 2015, along with the unlimited carts rate.

Price Changes for 2015 and New Policies
Memberships for the GreatLIFE will stay the exact same for the 2015 golf season– with one exception. There will be a reduction in the cart rates.

Last year, the pass for unlimited golf and fitness with a cart was $124.99. For 2015, the price will be $99.99.

GreatLIFE will also be putting into effect a new policy for 2015.

In 2014, Willow Run hosted 104 outings and Bakker Crossing hosted 55 outings. There were a few dates where both courses hosted events and Central Valley also hosted an event. This isn’t the way GreatLIFE wants to operate– so they made a change.

“Next year, we will be coordinating event dates between the courses in the Sioux Falls area,” Hill said of the new policy. “We are making a commitment to keeping a course available to our members every day of the golf season. Events are still great for us and our partners, but we will plan them in a way to give our members access to golf as well.”

This should be an initiative which will alleviate some of the problems encountered in 2014.
2015 looks to be another fantastic year for the members of GreatLIFE.