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Superintendent Fulfills Course Ownership Dream

By Andrew Hartsock , GCM's Editing Manager  

Scott and Missy Howard purchased their own golf course in January — years earlier than they’d expected, and just before the coronavirus crisis. They’re determined to stay the course.

Scott Howard met the woman of his dreams, and together, they hatched a plan.

Scott, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 18-year association member, and his wife, Missy, met as students at the State University of New York at Delhi. Scott was studying golf and sports turf management; Missy was learning hotel and restaurant management.

“It was always our dream, I guess, that someday down the line, we would own our own golf course,” Scott says. “I would operate the golf course, and she’d operate the restaurant. That was how our life was going to go.”

That plan, however, was projected well into the future. Scott and Missy figured they’d work for others, raise a family, and then while away their golden years at their idyllic golf course/restaurant. That timeline didn’t hold true.

Last year, when the opportunity arose for the Howards to purchase the course that Scott had previously tended for a decade, they jumped at the chance. In January, they finally closed on that purchase and reopened what is now Attica’s 10th Hole and Golf Course in Attica, N.Y.

“It happened way faster than we thought,” Scott says with a laugh. “We were thinking in retirement we’d buy a golf course. We’re 40 years old, and we own our own golf course. It’s crazy. It is a dream, and it gives us something to work for.”

In the best of times, the prospect of buying a golf course can be uncertain at best, foolhardy at worst. And present times are far from the best. None of which the Howards could have foreseen back when the possibility of buying the nine-hole private course then known as Attica Golf Club first emerged.

Scott Howard’s first superintendent job was at Attica Golf Club, a position he landed in 2006. “I really didn’t know what to expect, but being a nine-hole course intrigued me,” Howard says. “It had a private feel, but it didn’t have the overwhelming largeness of a big, high-end private club.”

As he was settling into his role as superintendent, Howard picked up a few additional duties. Attica GC found itself in need of a bookkeeper, and Howard stepped up. “I told the board I had a little bit of an accounting background and that I would help out until they found somebody,” he recalls. “Seven years later, I was still running the office. I did the register, paid taxes, did the payroll, printed newsletters — I did all the office work as well as being the superintendent.”

About halfway through his 10-year stint, Howard noticed membership had begun to decline. Though the club was still viable, cuts were being made, and when the opportunity to become superintendent at The Fox Valley Club in nearby Lancaster, N.Y., presented itself, Howard moved on, trading nine holes for 18 and taking control of a maintenance budget four times greater than that at Attica GC.

The Howards still lived in Attica, though, and roughly three years into Scott’s four-year tenure at Fox Valley, he heard whispers that Attica GC was about to be sold. That rumored deal ultimately fell through, though the club’s president intimated that the course could be bought if the right buyer and right offer came along.

“So my wife and I started putting our foot to the pedal to figure out what we could do,” Howard says.

The Howards, longtime residents of Attica and parents to Zak (13) and Jake (9), put together a business plan and, eventually, secured funding. They made their official offer to buy the course in May 2019, and the following month, the course members voted to sell — in principle. The course continued to take offers through July, and then in September 2019, voted to accept the Howards’ offer.

“We weren’t going to buy just any golf course,” Howard says. “This is our hometown. I worked here 10 years. We know people in town. I think that helped, and from what everybody says, the whole thing was kind of fast-tracked. I can honestly say, I don’t think they would have sold to just anybody. But with me being local ... I think they wanted to see it remain a golf course. Some of the other inquiries might not have had a long-term plan for it staying a golf course.”

The deal closed in January. The Howards began working toward opening day, despite what Scott describes as “one of the wettest spring seasons in western New York history.” He had to build a makeshift cart path to make the course accessible.

There was still snow on the ground on March 7 when the restaurant half of the Howards’ golf course-restaurant dream held its soft opening, a week before the March 14 grand opening.

“It was well attended,” Howard says. “That night, we got a phone call, during our dinner service, that schools were closing and that all restaurants had to go to takeout only. That burst our bubble. That week, we tried to do the to-gos, but it’s a clubhouse restaurant. It’s not conducive to curbside or takeout, so we had to close down the restaurant and had to wait on the game of golf — for Mother Nature to say we’re ready to open for golf.”

The coronavirus pandemic has done a number on most golf courses. Those in New York have had to deal with unusual uncertainty, as governmental decrees come and go with varying degrees of clarity.

“The state has changed the rules on golf courses four times now,” Howard says. “It’s been a whirlwind here in New York. Everybody interprets the rules differently. We watch our government briefing at 11:30 daily to see if something changes.”

Howard sometimes doesn’t know how to respond when a caller asks whether Attica is open for play.

“We have been busy, gotten a lot of inquiries,” Howard says. “People are looking to get out and play. People need a release. They need to be allowed to get out and play golf. I feel we would be very busy if we’re allowed to open with carts.”

Howard describes his course as “very hilly — the only flat hole is the first hole,” and he estimates 80% of his golfers would use a cart. Attica had been sending out golfers one per cart before Howard came to understand that golfers were to be limited to walking only.

The Howards face other challenges. The course, which opened in 1932, had been private, but the Howards have opened it to the public. Because it had been known for so long as a members-only venue — if it was known at all — getting the word out has been a task.

“One of the battles, since we were private so long ... we’re at the end of a dead-end street in the village,” he says. “People who live in town don’t even know we’re here. It’s a challenge here locally. We have to rely on social media to get the word out. But people that have heard ... everybody is happy we opened. The response locally was amazing. We have a group of friends who aren’t golfers, people who didn’t patronize here or were members up here, and they see the benefits of having another place in town to go.”

One advantage to the situation, Howard says, is that he’s had time to do some work around the course. He happily took to social media recently to show off some bunker upgrades, and says he feels fortunate he didn’t buy a golf course that went on the block because of neglect.

“The superintendent who took over for me when I left here did a fantastic job with what they gave him to work with,” Howard says. “There are some things that could be done, but it’s not so much the golf course or the restaurant end of it need to be improved. It’s just the fact it’s been a private club for so long and a lot of people haven’t been out here. The first question we ask everyone out here is, ‘Have you ever played here before?’ Now, 100% of the time, the answer is, ‘Nope, never been here.’

“It’s very exciting, but it’s also very nerve-wracking,” Howard says. “We’re banking everything on making it go as a business. We’re going from having two jobs with somebody paying us to, ‘We have to do this or ... what? What is the outcome if we don’t make it?’ But honestly, we’re two very positive people. What happens if we don’t make it hasn’t crossed our minds.

“You’d think, with everything going on, maybe we’d feel a little buyer’s remorse. But we know we’ll get through it. The number of phone calls we’ve taken, the people we’ve had to turn away — these are people who want to come spend money here. We know we’ll do well. We just have to get through this time.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s managing editor.



Meet the President, Brian Conn

Having just begun our second year as the GCSA of New York, recently

elected association president Brian Conn, CGCS, has his sights set on new

goals for himself and for the association. After working on a golf course since

high school, Brian has recently turned the page on a new chapter in his

career, and has outlined specific goals for the association as it enters its

second year.

Brian and I had the opportunity to discuss these goals and many other things

during a recent phone conversation. While the general synopsis is that the

inaugural year of the newly consolidated association was a success, it was

also met with great challenges. Brian, along with the board of directors and

the chapter administrator, has outlined some specific goals for 2021 that will

set our sights on addressing the challenges we faced last year, and help

develop a plan for the future of the GCSANY.

A native of Erie, PA, Brian got his start in the business at an early age. His

introduction to golf course maintenance was during high school at Lawrence

Park Golf Club, where he had a summer job. Brian’s father was a school

friend of the superintendent of Lawrence Park at that time, and helped to get

him the job. After graduation, he enrolled at Penn State’s Erie Campus with

a major in Political Science. As time passed, Brian began to realize that jobs

within his field of study may be limited. He started considering other options,

and began meeting with academic counselors at Penn State. After much

consideration and taking a year off from college, he realized that his passion

was in the golf business. So, he moved to State College and began pursuing

a degree in Turf Management. Brian would go on to receive a two year

Technical Certificate from Penn State’s program. As graduation approached,

Brian began looking for jobs close to home, and was lucky to find one right

near his hometown at Lake View Country Club. Brian accepted a position as

the assistant superintendent at Lake View shortly after graduating from Penn

State. Brian reflects on his time at Lake View as some of the best learning

experiences of his career. Working under long time superintendent Gordon

Seliga, CGCS, Brian honed his skill set and developed into being ready to

take the leap to becoming a superintendent. The two still keep in touch, and

Brian considers Gordon to be his mentor to this day. These types of

relationships are so important in our industry, and really help to drive the

success of all involved.

After 4 years as the assistant at Lake View, Brian accepted his first

superintendent position at Terry Hills Golf Course in Batavia, N.Y. Brian was

the first true golf course superintendent at Terry Hills, as the position was

created at the time when he was hired. Throughout his 13 year tenure there,

he helped to make a vast number of improvements to the facility. Some of the

projects that Brian completed included putting the finishing touches on a new

maintenance facility, major upgrades to the irrigation system, overseeing

construction and growing in an additional 9 holes, bringing the club to the

current 27 hole layout that it is today. In addition, Brian would marry his wife

Jennifer while working at Terry Hills, and they had two children during his time

there as well.

In 2008, Brian made the decision to leave Terry Hills and accepted a job at

Crag Burn Country Club in East Aurora, NY. At that time superintendent Ned

Booth was planning on retiring in a few years from the famous Robert Trent

Jones, Sr layout. Brian was hired with the intention of replacing Ned when

that time came. Brian remained in his position until 2014.

At that time, Brian took over as superintendent at Transit Valley Country Club

in East Amherst, N.Y. The club was founded in 1921 and has a great history

in the Buffalo area. Brian completed a number of in house projects during his

time there, including building a short game practice facility, and building a new

pump station.

In addition, Brian did something during his time at Transit Valley that shows

just how tight knit our industry is. In 2016, longtime Park Country Club

superintendent Scott Dodson was informed that his kidneys were failing.

Brian And Scott knew each other casually and professionally, having both

served on the WNYGCSA board of directors together, and working nearby

each other as their two clubs are only a few miles apart. They were not,

however, very close friends. Today, their relationship has changed

drastically. In the fall of 2017, after much testing, donating blood, and

meeting many other requirements, Brian was approved to donate one of his

kidneys to Scott. The surgeries were completed in early 2018 and the two

men were bonded for life. You can read more about this incredible story here: https://www.gcmonline.com/course/environment/news/scott-dodson-brian-conn

Brian worked at Transit Valley until just a few weeks ago, when he began

working as the Purchasing Manager for Preferred Seed Company. In fact,

Brian was in the middle of his first week at his new job when we conducted

our phone interview for this article. The company has been around for over

20 years in the Buffalo area. He is excited about this new chapter in his

career, and said that his job will be to negotiate pricing and volume, while also

focusing on shipping. He will also be working on things related to human

resources within the company.

As was mentioned earlier, Brian and his wife, Jennifer, were married while

Brian was the Superintendent at Terry Hills. The couple has been married

now for 24 years, and they have two children. Jennifer works in retail, and

their daughter Victoria, 23, works as a teacher at The Summit Center,

Western New York’s leading provider of behavioral health and autism

services. Their son Noah, 21, is currently in school to become an electrician,

and he works on the grounds staff at Transit Valley CC. The family is very

involved in their church, and are frequently involved with volunteering efforts

for their congregation. When not at work, Brian is an avid runner and also

enjoys canoeing and golf. Brian has determined that his main focus serving

as president of GCSANY is to regain stability in the association’s sophomore

year. He would also like to help the association increase the number of

members this year, and focus on what the benefits of being a member are.

The association is looking forward to having Brian as its president, and

making his goals a reality. We are also hoping to be able to host more in

person events this year, in an effort to increase networking across the state,

one of the initial goals of the consolidation effort that has been hampered by

the pandemic. With Covid-19 hopefully on the way out, all involved in the

association are looking forward to a great year in 2021.

About the author: Mike Tollner is the Golf Course Superintendent at Bellevue Country Club in Syracuse, N.Y. He is a class A member of GCSAA, and has been working in the golf business since 1994.

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