Warren Miller: Family fends off corporation
Vail, CO, Colorado
A giant, mega-billion dollar corporate invasion was recently blocked on our small island.
It happened when our golf course was put up for sale. The golf course is really appreciated by the people who live here and sometimes cursed by wandering tourists because most of the holes are on the side of a hill.
Your ball is either below your feet or above them, almost every time you try and hit it. There is also not much rainwater for the fairways, so they have to make do with whatever rainwater collects in the three small ponds on the course.
On the second hole of our particular course, you can play billiards golf by bouncing your second (typically my third) shot off of a steep right-side hill onto the green.
While you play that hole, you try not to disturb the eight baby ducklings that are hiding in the tall weeds on the pond side of the green, while the eagles fly overhead in a cobalt blue sky, just waiting for the opportunity to have a duckling dinner.
As summer approaches, anyone who hits his drive less than 140 yards on the fourth hole will have his ball roll to the right farther than he had originally hit it.
Fortunately, there are seldom any players ahead of you to slow you down, and usually no players behind you to speed you up. Because of this, I can sometimes hit three or four balls off of the tee until I get one right, or put three or four times until I sink it.
That way, I can get the equivalent of a 27-hole day of golf while only playing nine.
Other than some extra shots, I play golf according to the rules. It’s just a heck of a lot more fun for me than serious score-keeping golf.
Despite all of its quirks, I really like to play at our course. When I taught Tom Weiskopf how to ski, he taught me how to not bother keeping score in golf because the golf course will win every time. So, I just keep track of my good shots, although sometimes I end up only counting the balls I lose!
The corporate takeover of our golf course was avoided two years ago when a very alert real estate agent named Wally Gudgell rounded up nine local residents to each put some money in the pot and buy the place. For their contributions, each one of them got a vacant lot in the trees bordering the golf course. They also put a deed restriction on the golf course itself, so it could never be anything but a golf course.
Last winter, a local contractor-golfer named Kendall Taylor, his wife and his family of seven children stepped in and bought the golf course. He and his family are all lifelong golfers, so the purchase made a lot of sense.
He operates it with his wife and three or four of their seven children. They do everything around the course and it seems to be working very well. The greens are still the same difficulty they were before they bought the golf course, the tee boxes are finally soft enough to stick a golf tee into, and the many hills, gullies and extra tall grass they call the rough is still here.
The family had owned the golf course for no longer than a few months when their seven-gang lawnmower gave up and died because of old age. When they discovered that a new one would cost between $20,000 and $25,000, Kendall thought to look at used ones.
He went on his computer to eBay and found one that had recently been fully reconditioned by the owners. The find was both a good and bad deal for the family.
The price was good, only $1,500, but the bad part was it was located at a bankrupt polo field in Oklahoma somewhere, 2,000 miles away. No matter, Kendall immediately bought it, climbed into his truck, drove to Oklahoma, loaded it up and trucked it back.
Buying the seven-gang lawnmower was what it took to keep the golf course out of corporate hands, to keep it a family owned and family run establishment.
Their daughter, Cassie, 11, is the clubhouse manager. Justin, 26, is the general manager and also coaches the high school golf team. Justin’s pregnant wife, Carrie, works in the clubhouse when Cassie has a day off. Mathew, 22, is the greenskeeper and drives the nearly-new seven-gang lawnmower. Mrs. Taylor plants the flowers, the right kind, so that the many deer that live on the property don’t eat them every night.
She’s always followed around very closely by her small dog, Toby. He has a jacket with a big sign on the back that says, “Don’t pet my Toby.” This is because Mrs. Toby has occasional seizures, which no doctor in the past 15 years has ever been able to diagnose. Toby senses a seizures coming on before they happen so that Mrs. Taylor will have enough time to go lie down somewhere instead of falling down where she’s standing.
The golf course is getting a little more crowded every day because of the untrained, old-fashioned family management job they’re doing.
But for me, the fact that the Taylors, a local family, upstaged some giant corporate conglomerate from some far-off city makes me want to play there every day.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto Warren Miller.net
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