Gary Lindeblad sees similarities between golf and life.
“You’re going along fine, and then a bad break happens,” he says. “What’s important is how you handle it.”
Lindeblad’s bad break was contracting Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, a rare form of lymphoma.
He handled it with chemotherapy and an attitude adjustment, and went on to play some of his best golf and gain national recognition for his leadership skills.
Lindeblad sums up his business philosophy in four words: “Smile, smile, smile … and smile.”
He discussed his career as head professional at Indian Canyon Golf Course during a recent interview.
S-R: When did you take up golf?
Lindeblad: When I was about 13. I played baseball first, but got a classic case of Little Leaguer’s elbow and couldn’t throw. My dad was a golfer, so I started playing nine holes with him in the evening, and I loved it.
S-R: Were you good right away?
Lindeblad: Not really. I’d never taken lessons, and that’s really critical, particularly for kids. I learned by the seat of my pants. I was OK in high school – not great – and OK in college.
S-R: Didn’t your college team win the NAIA championship?
Lindeblad: Yeah, we won it all four years, and the conference championship three out of four years. I was captain a couple of years and MVP a couple of years. I was decent, but not like the younger golfers at bigger schools who went on to the PGA Tour.
S-R: When did you first consider golf management as a possible career?
Lindeblad: During college. My degree was in accounting, and the more I thought about being an accountant, the less I wanted to do that. After graduation, I had an opportunity to work at Liberty Lake Golf Course, and I took it.
S-R: What qualifies someone to be a club professional?
Lindeblad: You have to take a Professional Golfers’ Association of America player ability test, plus classes about things pertinent to the golf business. Once you pass, you’re eligible to join the PGA.
S-R: Did you ever attend Q-School to qualify for the PGA Tour?
Lindeblad: I went to Senior Q-School when I turned 50. I came very close to qualifying – I just missed by a couple of shots. It was right after I’d been diagnosed with cancer, so for me it was kind of a lark.
S-R: Yet you played some of your best golf after your diagnosis.
Lindeblad: Yeah, for a few years I played very well. If there’s any connection, it’s that my attitude about life changed significantly. I was able to laugh off bad shots because they no longer seemed like such a big deal.
S-R: What distinguishes the business of golf from the sport?
Lindeblad: The business is significantly more intricate than the game. You have to be a little bit of everything – an accountant, an organizer, a counselor, a teacher, know something about agronomy. You really are a jack-of-all-trades.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Lindeblad: The people. Everybody who comes here is looking forward to having a good time. That may not necessarily happen, because too many people’s happiness depends on how they play. But it’s nice to work in an environment where people are on the edge of enjoying themselves.
S-R: What do you like least?
Lindeblad: Probably the hours. Seven days a week, from March 15 to the end of October, I get here at 9 every morning and stay until dark. The only day I take off is July 4th. That being said, I’ve done it the same way for 40 years, and I haven’t caved in yet.
S-R: What’s a typical workday?
Lindeblad: The first thing I do is catch up on phone calls. Then I teach four or five lessons before lunch, come in and make sure everything is OK, then drive around the course making people feel welcome. Afterward, I give more lessons and try to carve out a little time to practice. I don’t play many rounds, but I try to find an hour every day to hit some balls. Then it’s evening lessons and paperwork.
S-R: Are you on the city payroll?
Lindeblad: No, I’m an independent contractor. My income is tied to how many people play, cart rentals, equipment sales, lessons, the driving range and the restaurant. City employees maintain the course. Everyone else works for me.
S-R: How did you get the Indian Canyon contract 28 years ago?
Lindeblad: The city narrowed its search to a handful of candidates, and each of us submitted a proposal detailing how we’d run the golf course.
S-R: How much can the head pro at a municipal course make?
Lindeblad: It’s like being a farmer – a lot depends on the weather and how hard you want to work. Head pros make anywhere from $70,000 to $110,000 a year.
S-R: What are you good at?
Lindeblad: I think I’m pretty good at taking care of people. I would be a good greeter at Wal-Mart.
S-R: Is there anything you’re not good at?
Lindeblad: Organizing. I’m very ADHD. I tend to let things become critical before I take care of them.
S-R: What’s the best idea you’ve had?
Lindeblad: Probably the Rosauers Open, which has raised close to $5 million directly and indirectly for the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery since 1988. I’m pretty proud of that.
S-R: What’s the biggest challenge the golf industry faces?
Lindeblad: Attracting new golfers. Growth has been flat the past few years. Now there’s a big push to bring people back into the sport and introduce kids to golf. It took a long time for professionals to realize you have to put out seed to have future golfers.
S-R: How much did the recession affect your business?
Lindeblad: Public courses typically fare pretty well in a recession because green fees are so low. But we’ve had horrible springs the past four years, and if you lose March, April and May to cold, wet weather, that’s a big chunk out of your year.
S-R: What’s the business outlook?
Lindeblad: I think golf is on the cusp of giant growth. It’s a good place to be right now.
S-R: What sort of person works well here?
Lindeblad: Someone who loves golf. I’m a big advocate of helping people who work at golf courses become good golfers. I encourage them to play and practice, and I try to make time available for them to do that.
S-R: How do you relax?
Lindeblad: I don’t. Seriously. But I find playing golf helps. And like most golfers, I hold out hope that someday an epiphany will happen and I’ll get it. There’s one fellow here who’s 95 and still taking lessons. That’s the beauty of golf.