There is a great deal of risk involved in nearly every aspect of the golf business these days.
But the leap of faith Craig Schuh took this spring, when he decided to lease Deer Park Golf Club from the city of Deer Park, has raised that risk factor to a whole new level.
The 51-year-old Schuh, who hired on as the PGA head professional at Deer Park Golf Club when it first opened in 1996, remains in that position after recently agreeing to a 10-year lease of the course. His duties, however, have changed.
And so has his stress level.
“I’m doing pretty much the same thing I’ve been doing for the last 15 years,” said Schuh, a former standout amateur in the Spokane area. “I’m just doing it, now, with my own money – and that can be pretty stressful, not just for me but for the other 30 or so people who were working here when the course was sold.”
When Deer Park Golf Club’s former ownership group, Warren Development, announced it was putting the golf course, adjoining RV park and housing development up for auction, Schuh figured his life might change. But he was hoping to stay on as the head professional under the new owner or owners so he wouldn’t have to uproot his family.
It turned out he got the chance to do just that.
The RV park and housing development were both grabbed up by local investors, and the golf course was purchased by the city of Deer Park, which then went to work arranging a suitable lease with Schuh, who ended up buying all of the course’s existing maintenance equipment and golf carts.
Under his lease agreement, Schuh is responsible for all aspects of the golf course – including its rate structures and the hiring and supervision of the maintenance and pro shop crews. He also oversees the operation of Divots Grill & Sports Bar in the clubhouse, which is still owned by the city, but from which Schuh receives all revenues.
In putting together his staff, which could grow to more than 30 during the peak summer season, Schuh was quick to hire back course superintendent Jim Jensen, who has been at Deer Park since it first opened.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Schuh said of Jensen, “so the condition of the course shouldn’t change at all. And we’re hoping to make it even better.”
Schuh’s wife, Debbie, is helping in the Divots kitchen, and his two children – 17-year-old Tyler, and 14-year-old Madison – are also lending a hand around the clubhouse, golf course and driving range.
“It was a hard decision to lease the course, because it was one where you knew you and your family were going to be involved for at least 10 years,” said Schuh, whose lease also includes a five-year option. “Everybody thinks golf courses make a ton of money, but they really don’t.
“When you have lease payments and equipment payments and all those other expenses, like we do, the only way you’re going to make it is by everybody in the family getting involved and helping out.”
Still, Schuh said he needs the cooperation of the city of Deer Park, and the support of both the local community and Spokane to make his venture profitable.
And so far, he added, the city of Deer Park is holding up its end of the bargain, having made some much-needed repairs – including the replacement of the back wall and the air conditioning unit – to the clubhouse.
“The city has been very fair,” Schuh said. “They knew the clubhouse needed repairing when they bought it, and when they dug into it, it was a little worse than they thought. But to their credit, they didn’t piecemeal it. They spent the money and did it right.
“When I talked about leasing it, I told them it has to be a partnership between me and the city if we’re going to make it work. So far, the city has done their part – even more than I expected. And if I do my part, it should work out great.”
If such cooperation continues, Schuh expects the operation of the Deer Park Golf Club to go on as usual, with golfers noticing nothing in the way of outward changes.
“We want to keep giving people a good product for a good price,” he said.
Still, with the economy the way it is, Schuh harbors some doubt about his decision to take over the entire golf course operation.
“Even with all we’ve talked about, it’s a big risk,” he said. “But it’s a business, and that’s the way a business is. It’s going to go up, it’s going to go down; you’re going to have good times, and you’re going to have bad times.
“Hopefully, you don’t have as many bad times as you do good ones.”