OWNER TO OWNER
(Allison George, Toad Valley Golf Course, IA + Rock Lucas, Charwood Golf Club, SC)
Charlie Birney: Okay. Always my favorite part of the show, Owner-to-owner. Here are Allison and Rock.
I'm so glad. It's almost like we're together. I'm so glad to have Allison and Rock here. Welcome to Owner-to-owner. Guys, how are you this afternoon?
Allison: Wonderful. Thanks for having me.
Charlie: Look. I've heard about the dollhouse. Rock, where are you transmitting from?
Rock: I'm upstairs in the office which I'm barely rarely in here. So, every two weeks and the time to pay bills.
Charlie: What, you don't pay bills every day? Come on, Rock. Well, you guys tell me what's going on now. It's getting cold here, and the leaves are falling. And it's getting cold too fast for me. But what's going on at your necks of the woods?
Rock: Go ahead, Allison.
Allison: All right. Well, I do feel like I need to clarify since Charlie mentioned it. So, I am sitting in my home office because I am in Iowa, as everyone knows, and where it is cold. And during COVID, I decided to build a dollhouse. So, you can see the...if you're with the video, you can see the dollhouse behind me. So, I told him I probably deserve an award because I'm likely the only golf operator that also builds dollhouses.
Charlie: I think that's a fair bet.
Allison: It is a nice...I think, you know... I don't really play much golf anymore. So, I had to find another hobby. And it's a good...it's a nice, relaxing hobby. Kind of keeps me mentally sane. So, in my neck of the woods, so, we spent the last several years, we've basically remodeled every single square foot of our club house. And so, it was time for me to start remodeling the outside. In the last month, we actually have completely taken all apart, moved I don't know how many tons of dirt in our driving range. And so, we are flattening the landing zone of our driving range. We got rid of this leaky pond, and we're doing a bunch of kind of water retention issues that we're fixing up. The intention is that we will be adding Toptracer to our driving range next year. So, that's kind of our big project.
We had simulators we put in last winter that, you know, went over really well. The downside being...that compliment a northern course extremely well because they're really busy when the outside is not. But then they're not as busy during the summer time. So, I was trying to kind of figure out how did I want to add more simulators that would be busier for a longer period of time. And that's when I actually spoke to Cathy Harbin, and she put that in. And I'm sure she's visited about it on the show.
So, that was kind of the route that I decided to take, and super excited about all of that and be able to offer our golfers additional fun things happening at the golf course. And then our golf course also just won Best Golf Course in the Des Moines Metro. So, that's...
Charlie: Oh, congratulations.
Allison: It's kind of a cool honor as well.
Charlie: That's awesome.
Allison: Top that, Rock.
Charlie: All right, Rock. Come on. That's ouchie. Ouch.
Rock: [crosstalk 00:16:36].
Allison: You're the one that had me go first.
Rock: Number one, congratulations on your award. But more importantly than that number one is, can you build me a doghouse? Because I've seen it.
Allison: Hey. You know what? My husband can even attribute to it how nice the doghouse can be.
Rock: And then [inaudible 00:16:58].
Charlie: There we go. There we go.
Rock: But we won't go there because he's a big time elected official now. So, we can't go there.
Charlie: Yeah, that's right.
Rock: So, you know, doing a lot, kind of like Allison's doing. We've done a lot of remodeling of the actual golf course. We're in a sand zone that runs about where the ocean used to be. It runs about 15 miles wide. It runs from Pinehurst, North Carolina down into South Georgia. And we did the USGA which they call now...now call it the Deacon Program. We were one of the pilot programs with it, and started removing a lot of turf, and going back to the natural sand.
And so, we're down to actually 55 acres of managed turf, which kind of goes along with the labor issues. So, it helps a lot of that and a lot of the inputs and so forth. And redid all the landscape around the club house. When I say landscape, we ripped out about 75 to 80 trees and just changed the entire look of the club house, and the grounds, and the grounds around the club house. And then this time of the year, we'll start sharpening all the chainsaws and going around the golf course, and do a lot of tree removal and a lot of [inaudible 00:18:02] and pruning. So, we'll set up the golf course in the morning, blow leaves, and then run chainsaws the rest of the day.
Charlie: I know that at Queenstown, they're talking about changing out the river course fairway and shutting down for a few months next year. Either of you looking at, you know, something major like that in the near future?
Allison: I personally am not. I try everything to not close down my golf course as possible.
Charlie: That's terrifying. Yeah.
Allison: Also, our chainsaws are...they probably need to be sharpened because we have cut down almost 200 ash trees. We've just done one hole, you know, every couple of weeks. It has been a nightmare. And we have...all these logs are all stacked up. We're trying to find...surely, somebody wants them. So, pilot company [crosstalk 00:18:45].
Rock: Yeah. We've had a hard time doing that, you know. That in between, you and I were probably in that in between at most golf courses. So, to bring a forestry or timber crew in, it's going to take truckload after truckload after truckload. But anything less than that, they want to charge you. And there's got to be that middle to where, "Hey. Come get it. It's already cut. It's already lengthed. You load it up, and you make the money. Just get it off my property."
But Del Ratcliffe bought his own sawmill. He bought his own sawmill. So, they're taking all the trees that they're cutting, and they're cutting their own lumber. You know, whether he's selling it, whether he's using it for the property or whatever it is, and you can buy it. They're relatively affordable. You can buy the portable ones. Depends on what you're going to do with it, move it around the property or if it's easier to do that, then may as well move all your logs.
Allison: That does not surprise me in the least. Only Del would be like, "I have to cut down a bunch of trees. So, I'll go buy a sawmill."
Charlie: So, I'll make my own wood. Why not? Every boy's dream, you know, really.
Allison: Yeah. Well, we cut all the branches off. Luckily, we're in the county still. And so, we're able to burn. So, we burn all the branches, but then we have kept all the logs. So, they're just in a big pile. You know, we're all scratching our heads of what we're going to do with them.
Charlie: If you do sawmill it, then you could have your own wood for the dollhouse. But what I want her to build is a pro shop. So, I want her to build a dollhouse pro shop and we could sell that off at the conference for a lot of money, Allison.
Allison: Yes. I like it. You know, I just met with our Titleist rep, and you know, it might be the only option to get product in your pro shop is to be offering the dollhouse version. I don't know about you, Rock, but we certainly have had a hard time keeping in stock with all these weird shipping delays. And, you know, we order new golf carts and it'll probably be a year before we actually get them. I was already a pretty patient person, but COVID has definitely taught me a whole new level of patience.
Rock: Believe it or not, we use mostly Srixon. We use Wilson and Srixon. Wilson, we're having...we use the colored yellow range balls that we got on adjacent fairway. So, I can't get the yellow range balls from Wilson. But Srixon said, "If you'll take all your product for the whole year now, we'll guarantee you'll get it. And we're going to give you a discount on top of what you already get," being a staff account. So, we have literally taken the entire year's order, and we already have it in-house. I'm not worried about any golf balls or anything like that, gloves. [inaudible 00:21:24]
Allison: Excellent. Yeah. No, it has been weird. It's always weird. Because we've even struggled with some beer supplies. You know, you'll order something, and you think it's there, and then all of a sudden, they don't tell you that they didn't bring it. And then it's not there.
Rocky: I had one of my restauranteurs, a lot of my buddies all own restaurants. And one of them texted me Saturday morning and said, "Hey. What's so and so's number?" Because he knew the other guy had a convenience store and all that. He said, "I need straws. We're out." And he called my buddy at the convenience store. He said, "Well, I had to shut down all our fountain machine operations because we don't have straws for DHEC. And so, I said, "Well, I've got some." So, I gave him this. And then he was giving something to somebody else. So, Charlotte's about two hours at the road. So, a lot of product, if you can't get it, they'll do what I just did with, like, Srixon balls. They'll drive up to Charlotte. You know, they can't get bacon. So, they'll drive up there and fill up their whole vehicle coolers full of bacon for the restaurants. The supply chain thing is real.
Allison: Yeah. It is. We had a hard time getting Styrofoam cups. Because we use them because, you know, as you know, on a golf course, you want your drink to stay as cold as long as possible. And, you know, we finally...my food and beverage person was calling around. And he even called Dart, you know, like, the main supplier of that kind of stuff. And they couldn't. So, we finally found some. And we ended up buying, like, 10,000 cups. It was like, "Okay. We're not going through this again," because you got to have cups, you know. [crosstalk 00:22:58].
Rock: If you found it, you better buy it.
Allison: Yup. Probably the thing I say most frequently is, you couldn't make this stuff up if you tried. I never realized how fragile our supply chain is and just really how global our entire economy is. It just depends so much on not even just China which, you know, obviously, you always know that. You know, even little countries. You know, they make just one little, tiny thing and it's fascinating.
Rock: In the U.S., even the grocery stores, they resupply your main staple items, they resupply it four times a day. They don't keep it in the back [inaudible 00:23:38] supplies. So, if the food supply chain breaks down, there's only enough food for probably two days for the whole country before the whole thing shuts down. So, if you go to your grocery store, I mean, they don't keep that much milk in there at that one time. They're going to resupply it a couple times a day. So, if you find it, you better get it.
You know, like one of my restaurant guys, he said he couldn't find anybody to wash dishes. So, they went to all-paper products, which cost him more and is...you got to find it. But that, you know, beat having trying to find somebody to wash the dishes. Other ones have gone to instead of being open x number of days, now they're going to be open, say, Tuesday through Saturday, closed Sunday, Monday, Tuesday because they don't have the staff.
And another conversation I was having is the people have become...and especially the restaurant side of it, they've become conditioned because the restaurants, one, they were closed. And then when we started opening them up, they were closing, like, at 8. And then now, they're trying to go to 9, then they're trying to go to 10. And so, all the employees, they don't want to work till 10:00 or 11:00. And I got my daughter even. She's going to college and she works at one of them and said, "They want to stay back open till 11:00." And I said, "You used to work till 12 and get off at 1. And now, you're complaining about working till 11." I said, "You know, you've become conditioned." And so, it's even in my own household.
Allison: It's weird. You know, I was telling Charlie before the show, even...you know, I would consider myself to be an outgoing person. And even I have gotten to where, like, I just kind of prefer my home. It's really weird. I've never spent more time at home than I have this last year. And it's just kind of...you know, someday I hope we'll be a better person for this entire experience, for sure.
Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it does my heart joy in the meantime to be with both of you guys, and hear what's going on. It's been a crazy year here, too, in employment not just in media, but I'm involved in marinas as well as some commercial stuff here from the company I used to work at. And the staffing problems, you guys know this, they're everywhere. It's just absolutely everywhere. There's nowhere that this isn't a problem. Cities and urban areas, too. So, I'm kind of amazed and just hoping that maybe this spring will bring more workers, you know, I'm hoping.
Allison: Yeah. You know, it's kind of a mystery. Almost everyone I talk to, you know, it doesn't really add up. Like, what were these people doing beforehand? And my only assumption is that they used to have a second job. And I think that's where the golf course is a little more affected because a lot of people who at least work at my golf course, you know, it's their second job. It's their, like, fun job. And they kind of got used to not doing that extra fun job. And so, then, you know...I don't know. It's interesting.
I did see... We've been planning out this Toptracer. I'm actually pretty excited to go to the PGA show because I can't remember which range company it is. But they basically have a robot range ball picker. So, it'll be...because that's, like, a really hard position for us to find because it's kind of a monotonous, you know, boring work, but extremely vital in the operation of our range. And it is just unbelievable. You just program, runs off a GPS and, you know, like, this goes and picks up your range. And, of course, you know, there's no risk of anybody getting hurt on it.
Charlie: Yeah, because we all used to aim at that person.
Allison: I know.
Charlie: You know what I'm saying. When I would go to the range and that guy came by, I would try to hit that thing.
Charlie: I could never do it, but I would try. I'm sure I got it once in a while.
Rock: Yeah. I think [crosstalk 00:27:13] and Justin or Jason...Charlie, you did one a while back with one of them, their demo and one right now.
Charlie: That's right. That's right. No, this is the stuff that we're going to see. Man, it's super, super exciting. So, yeah. I forget who it was. You're right. One of those guys had one up and running, I think, maybe. Yeah.
Rock: Yeah. They're doing one now, the autonomous. And they've got the mowers also. They've got the rough units out, and I know that John Deere has been doing the fairway units. They're actually on a couple golf courses now on South Carolina where they're still in the testing. And I was at...they had...I forgot the company. Cub Cadet, I think it was. They had the autonomous greens mowers. And I watched the videos of them out at a USGA Regional Conference, and this was two years ago. And they were already out there in the field. And so, the assistant of whoever would go and unload it, it would start mowing the green while he changed the cups, raked the bunkers and all that. And it was pretty neat, but they also showed all the pictures of where they were flipped over into the bunkers and ponds and some things. Still, the technology is close, but not, you know, in this market where it needs to be yet.
Charlie: Of course. I remember when we converted the Queenstown to a golf course. We took the farmer who'd been there with the soy and the feed corn, and he became a mower on the golf course. The problem with that as opposed to the robot is that, occasionally, Eddie would fall asleep, you know. At least the robot doesn't fall asleep. Ed, he was a wonderful guy. I love him, but he was getting on, and he would occasionally just take a little snooze cutting the fairway. That was pretty dangerous.
Rock: I can see people putting a barrel on top of the autonomous range picker. You hit the barrel while it's moving, you win something, you know, a free drink.
Allison: There you go.
Charlie: I like that. That's perfect. Oh.
Allison: I'm actually so comforted to hear that story, Charlie, because I used to have a great uncle that worked at our course. And this was, you know, back in the '70s. And so, you know, people's standards were a little different, I think, back then. But we had one of those huge gang mowers, you know. It used to be we had no trees on our golf course. So, you could mow and mow and mow, and you wouldn't run into things. And he would fall asleep also. You know, he was an older guy. And so, sometimes a golfer...
Charlie: All that noise kind of lulls you into a...
Allison: Yeah. The golfers would, you know, have to pull over sometimes, you know, make sure that he was in fact just sleeping.
Charlie: Yeah. Well, you know, [crosstalk 00:29:34].
Rock: [crosstalk 00:29:34] out, but we got a president that does the same thing.
Charlie: I don't want anybody to know this, but I feel asleep recording someone once in a podcast. So, it does happen.
Rock: I guarantee you. If I sit still, my wife would tell me, I'm not sure who falls asleep first, me or my lab. The lab, she'll start snoring, but the second I sit down, man, I'm done.
Allison: Yeah. And it gets earlier and earlier the older you get.
Charlie: Yes, it does. That, I'm okay with. But, yes, it does. Well, Allison, Rock, so good to see you both and talk with you. And I'll be thinking of you, and have a wonderful rest of the week. And thanks for being here today.
Allison: Thank you, Charlie. Great seeing you guys.
Rock: Appreciate it. Thank you.
Charlie: Thanks today to Allison and Rock, and Ben Vainer for a great episode. And as always, thanks to John Deere and Yamaha. Hey, Robb Spewak in the booth, thanks to you for running these sessions. And lastly, to our listeners, thank you, and continue to send in your golf business stories. See you next time.
Podcast transcription courtesy of Podville Media.