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Landscapes Unlimited survives decline in new golf course construction
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Landscapes Unlimited survives decline in new golf course construction

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Most people think Landscapes Unlimited just builds golf courses.

But if the company were only in the greens and fairways business, the past 10 years would have been more challenging than Amen Corner at Augusta National.

In 2000, At the zenith of new course construction, 300 to 400 courses were being built each year in the United States. But that number dropped quickly and dramatically.

For five years in a row, more courses have closed than opened. And since 2007, the number of new courses in any given year has not broken 100. In 2010, there were 45.

But Landscapes Unlimited began diversifying in the mid-1990s -- before the construction decline.

The company's core competency in landscaping, grading, irrigation and drainage applies to construction projects beyond golf. So it also builds athletic fields, parks, playgrounds, splash parks, skateboard parks, recreational trails and even snow-making systems at ski lodges.

Non-golf construction projects run the gamut from major (Oklahoma State University's football field) to medium (the football field at Pius X High School in Lincoln) to modest (the baseball/softball field at Roca). It also has done projects at Ohio State University, Purdue University and for the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.

Creative thinking paired with the ability to develop strong professional relationships in the industry, which helped the company enter non-golf construction, are qualities highly valued by Bill Kubly, who founded Landscapes Unlimited in 1976.

"I think it speaks to the vision of Bill Kubly, who named the company Landscapes Unlimited," general manager Judy Terwilliger said.

"Instead of Golf Unlimited," said Mike Jenkins, president of the company's holding company, Landscapes Golf Group.

With 16,000 golf courses nationally, course renovation and maintenance also represent business opportunities. Two of the company's most high-profile renovation projects have taken place at Torrey Pines near San Diego, site of the 2008 U.S. Open, and Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., host of three U.S. Opens and four PGA Championships.

"Our core business is golf, and in the absence of new golf course construction, there continues to be a lot of renovation," Jenkins said. "We've always been a big player in golf renovation."

In 1999, the company created Landscapes Golf Group to own and manage courses. The division owns about a dozen courses and provides management to another dozen or so, Jenkins said. In the Midwest, the company manages both public and private golf courses in Omaha, Bellevue, Kansas City and Manhattan, Kan.

At the height of the construction boom, Landscapes Unlimited employed about 1,000 people at offices in Lincoln; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Houston; and Raleigh, N.C. Some of the employment was seasonal and fluctuated with project demands.

Now, the company employs about 500, which includes 40 at the corporate office in Lincoln.

Both company officials said they see growth opportunities for the private firm. While new course construction in the United States is unlikely ever to reach the level of a decade ago, the growth potential for new courses internationally is sky high. For example, China, where Landscapes Unlimited already has been involved in construction, has only 300 courses in the entire nation.

Meanwhile, the company plans to grow the non-golf side of the business. Although the decline in course construction presented tough challenges, it forced the company to push other initiatives forward, Terwilliger said.

"Although it hasn't been an ideal environment to be a construction company in, I think we'll come out being a better company," she said. "I think there will be a day when people don't just think of golf when they think of Landscapes Unlimited."

Reach Joe Duggan at 402-473-7239 or jduggan@journalstar.com.

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