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Golf Digest Logo lucky break

How a Phoenix-area course capitalized on a unique location to keep play going into the night

April 26, 2024
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Illustration by Sami Saramaki

In most of the country, golf courses fight an unrelenting battle against weather and daylight. How do you get enough rounds in to generate the revenue required to keep the doors open? One Phoenix-area operation is trying to change those terms of engagement with a modern marketing plan, banks of stadium lights and a whole lot of electricity.

Jimmy and Jake Hoselton and their fellow millennial friends Pete Wilson and Connor Riley decided to expand their lifestyle and clothing brand Grass Clippings into the operations business. Their first deal was securing the venture capital backing to execute an audacious plan to resurrect a scruffy Tempe, Ariz., executive course by combining private-club-caliber conditioning with stadium lights and entertainment for both literal and figurative play deep into the night.

Tempe leased its city-owned course to Grass Clippings in 2022, when the group comprehensively renovated the course, installed 80 stadium-style LED light towers and brought in former TPC Scottsdale head groundskeeper Scott Hebert to level up the turf quality. During the day, the layout plays as a 3,428-yard, par-59 executive course. At night, lights cover an 18-hole par-3 tees-and-greens footprint, and the green fee rises from $55 to $99. When every other Phoenix-area course is slow from the skillet-like summer heat or closed because of darkness, Grass Clippings Rolling Hills is bursting with play.

“The lights really do change the math,” says Jimmy Hoselton, who grew up watching his father develop luxe golf-course communities like Silverleaf in Scottsdale and Martis Camp in Lake Tahoe. “Where this course might have done 40,000 rounds under conventional conditions, we’re projected to do 60,000 this year.” Those extra rounds offer a stable revenue floor that only grows with Grass Clippings’ emphasis on food, drink and entertainment.

“The site is 95 acres, and our only contiguous neighbor is the zoo,” Jimmy Hoselton says about Rolling Hills, which is also located near the highway and Arizona State’s football stadium. “There’s no dark sky ordinance, and we partnered with a lighting provider to build a setup that produces no light pollution. There’s also no sound ordinance, so we can have food trucks and concerts at night.”

Musco, a company that has designed light systems for Premier League teams and Mount Rushmore, built the LED towers at Grass Clippings to direct light to a specific spot so that it doesn’t spill into the sky. Even so, the fortuitous location means the local government doesn’t crack down if some light does escape. This very particular confluence of factors that has allowed Grass Clippings to succeed is hard to come by, which is largely why there are less than two dozen fully lighted 18-hole courses in the U.S.

By any measure, this night-golf concept is a hit. Since re-opening in late 2023, the course has been booked. Word of mouth has been so powerful that NBA star and avid golfer Steph Curry was in town with his Golden State Warriors for a December game against the Suns and came out looking for a game under the lights. “Our head pro called and said Steph was there with his agent and [rookie guard] Brandin Podziemski looking to book a time. That’s probably a good sign that things are working the way we hoped,” Jimmy Hoselton says.

In fact, the volume of play and the ability to go deep into the night have presented some challenges. “In theory, we could be open a lot later, but when you close at midnight, that means your staff doesn’t go home until at least 1 a.m., and there has to be some time when you can do maintenance,” Jimmy Hoselton says. “We’ve had so much play that we’ve had to come up with a way to preserve the tee boxes and add more of them because they get almost no down time.”

The lights and nighttime entertainment are just the start of Grass Clippings’ plan to go bigger than traditional golf. The ninth hole was previously a short par 4 with a green so close to the clubhouse that players often peppered the shop with stray shots. Grass Clippings lopped 100 yards off the hole, built a giant patio and expanded the putting green into a 15,000-square-foot competition space. The tatty range is being renovated to incorporate ball-tracking technology and a full bar so that you can drink, think and tinker with your swing all at the same time. A new restaurant is in the works, and the new patio infrastructure can support festival-sized concerts and squadrons of food trucks.

“Topgolf deserves a tremendous amount of credit for opening people’s eyes to what golf entertainment could be. You’re up on the third floor hitting golf balls, and there’s food and music,” says Jimmy Hoselton, who worked in real estate before co-founding Grass Clippings during the COVID slowdown. “My generation, as much as we love championship golf and the whole tuck-your-shirt-in traditions of the game, we believe that it’s sometimes nice to go walk nine holes in a T-shirt and no shoes and play some loud music and not worry about the buttoned-up aspect of it. Whether it’s dressing the way you want or playing in a five-some, our goal is to say yes to our customers.”

Jimmy Hoselton says Grass Clippings’ rangers are even trained to help groups as big as eight move along quickly. But, hey, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere, right?