In 1983 they bid on two courses in San Francisco, the Harding Park and Lincoln Park golf courses. Not expecting to win--pro golfer Lee Elder's group was bidding on the Harding course--Silverstein and Husband promised to make $250,000 in capital improvements (or $250,000 more than they had) at the two clubs.
But win they did. With the help of an attorney they raised the cash in 10 days through a limited partnership.
Whatever skills the pair lacked as touring pros, they possess as merchants. "The most important thing on a golf course is the first impression," Husband said. Silban repaints golf shops, puts in new carpeting, keeps up the putting greens, and brings in a fleet of new golf carts--making it more likely that golfers will rent them.
The average income of a public links player is $37,000 a year, Husband said. "They are used to public courses not being so nice. And so, when you do give them something nice, they react very positively."
Silban also loads up on golf equipment and tries to move it out of the pro shop by matching or beating sales prices of discount shops. To motivate the staff, the company pays assistant pros only $5 an hour, but the pros can make $30 an hour giving lessons, plus commissions on sales of major golf equipment.
Hawking golf balls and collecting greens fees might sound like a nickel-and-dime business. On a good public course with 100,000 rounds played a year, however, it quickly adds up.
At the 36-hole Sepulveda Basin golf complex in Encino last year, Silverstein and Husband took in $660,000 from the pro shop and driving range, up from $270,000 in 1981.
Next door at the Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys, Silban expects to do $175,000 in sales just from the driving range this year, up from $25,000 a year ago when it was a bare dirt field. Now players can hit off real grass instead of rubber mats.
Most of Silban's deals thus far have been piecemeal, managing a pro shop or a driving range but not running the whole show. With CCA's financial backing, the company is now bidding for master leases in which it will be responsible for every blade of grass.
The pros expect to double sales to $8 million this year. The company has added four golf courses recently, including a 15-year master lease deal at the Diamond Bar Golf Course, owned by Los Angeles County. They also plan to bid on courses in Nevada, Arizona and maybe Texas.
Silverstein has only one gripe. He has played only one round of golf in the last five months. "When you work, you can't play," he said.