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Running a golf course isn’t all fun and games

"Take this job and shove it. I ain’t working here no more."

Those words from my favorite country song occurred to me last week in my day job, following a particularly busy week. Thanksgiving was coming up, and we were beginning to get swamped with deadline orders. As I sat there and envisioned the marathon workweek ahead, another thought came to mind. I should quit the grind and find my dream job.

Director of water activities at Hef’s mansion?

Chief officer of money counting at the Wynn?

Head test driver for Ferrari? Hmmm

Running a golf course could be fun. Running two would probably double the excitement. The ultimate hat trick would be being in charge of three. That’s it! Golf all day long and then work player relations in the lounge until dark. Yeah, baby!

To validate my bright idea, I met with Joe Kelly, business operations manager and director of golf at Sun City’s trio of courses in Summerlin. The courses are Palm Valley (1989), Highland Falls (1993) and Eagle Crest (1995), all designed by Billy Casper and Greg Nash. Being a member of the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame, president of the First Tee of Southern Nevada and three-time Las Vegas Chapter Golf Professional of the Year, Kelly would be able to tell me how to get my dream job.

Kelly has been in the golf biz for more than 50 years, beginning with bag boy jobs and some pro-shop time. By 1973, he worked his way up to an assistant manager slot, which allowed him to come to Las Vegas in 1978 to work at Howard Hughes’ Desert Inn Golf Club, now known as Las Vegas Country Club.

In 1980, Kelly was involved with opening the Paradise Valley Country Club. Soon, Kelly became director of golf at the course when it changed names to Wildhorse Golf Club. Later, he worked with Jim Colbert in opening Stallion Mountain Golf Club. A stint at Walters Golf included overseeing all three courses there — Desert Pines Golf Club, Royal Links Golf Club and Bali Hai Golf Club on the Strip.

His work at Sun City began in 2003. It’s an impressive resume indeed.

Hmmm Seems like I might need a little more experience for my new gig.

"So, Joe, what’s new? How often do you play golf?"

"Not much," he said.

As for what’s new, he said, "The city just added a new fire station in Sun City near the Palm Valley course, requiring us to rework hole No. 9’s tee box. It took six months to do the in-house design to the actual changes. We wanted to ensure the changes would not interfere with the integrity, playability and challenge of the hole. We elevated the tee, bringing the lake into sight. The change also resulted in making the hole a dogleg. We added 23 trees and upgraded tee box landscaping, as well. The cost to the city was $184,000, and the golfing experience was vastly upgraded. It all came out better than expected."

"Now, seriously, how often do you play golf?"

"Not much," he said. "Running the courses is full time. Since 2008, the economy has really affected our courses. Rounds are down. Golf is a recreational activity, and people’s budgets for recreation is down. Then there’s the nonresident factor. High-end courses that catered to the tourist lost rounds, which led those courses to increase their marketing to the locals. Prices at high-end courses were lowered. That affected play at Sun City’s courses. And we have an aging population in our community. There are a lot of great golfers up here, but an aging population has affected the number of rounds being played.

"We did a Groupon promotion recently that brought in a lot of new faces. That’s the key. We need to make sure those golfers have a superior golf experience so they’ll come back for repeat rounds."

"I see. So, how often do you play golf?" I prodded for the third time.

"Not much," he said, again. "There are big challenges running three top-rated golf courses. No. 1 is communications. With over 150 employees, everyone has to know what the promotions include — the where, when and how of them so the result is a top-grade experience for our guests.

"Then there’s maintaining the play of each course to superior levels for a fair price for our players.

"Finally, ensuring that our food and beverage service maintains quality levels with acceptable price points. It has to be golfer-friendly — fast, quick and good."

"So, do you ever play golf?" I asked quietly.

"Not much," he said.

Well, looks like I’ll stick with my day job. At least I have time to play some golf.

John Asay is a longtime golfer and local freelance writer. Contact him at jasay@reviewjournal.com.

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