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Friday, April 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

After arson, young CEO revives golf career, rebuilds business

Reid Hatley with one of the benches his company RHI Golf made for Tiger Woods’ first golf course, Bluejack National, at his new shop in Hayden, Idaho. In mid-June an arsonist burned down Hatley’s former manufacturing shop and offices on a nearby lot by the Coeur d’Alene Airport. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Reid Hatley with one of the benches his company RHI Golf made for Tiger Woods’ first golf course, Bluejack National, at his new shop in Hayden, Idaho. In mid-June an arsonist burned down Hatley’s former manufacturing shop and offices on a nearby lot by the Coeur d’Alene Airport. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Reid Hatley gazed upon the smoldering ruins of his North Idaho business one morning this past June. Someone had broken into the golf course accessory manufacturer to steal tools, then set fire to the shop and offices near the Coeur d’Alene Airport.

He lost everything, including beloved clubs and the ball and scorecard from his best day on 18 holes, when he shot a stunning 58 at Hayden Lake Country Club in 2013.

The pungent odor of scorched materials triggered tender memories of watching his family’s home on Spokane’s South Hill burn in the late 1980s. Hatley was in second grade, and he and his older sister walked home from school to find the firetrucks. The electrical fire wiped out both of their bedrooms, their toys and books and clothes – everything.

“I instantly went back to being an 8-year-old kid standing there in the street, watching,” said Hatley, now 34, recalling his visceral reaction to what the arsonist had done to his 5-year-old company.

“I remembered things that I really didn’t even know I remembered from when I was 8. I remember looking at all my stuff that was just ruined. And this was at a whole new level.”

Even his workers weren’t aware of what he had experienced in childhood and how it all came flooding back that morning. “I had to hold it together because I had 14 employees,” he said.

Four months later, RHI Golf is back to work making customized course signs, bag and club stands, benches, trophies and a catalog full of other products for a customer base that includes some of the best-known properties in the game. Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, Merion, Medinah, Seminole, Baltusrol and Gozzer Ranch, to name a few.

The biggest order Hatley’s crew is bustling to fill is for the Tiger Woods-designed Bluejack National opening soon near Houston.

“We just prioritized what was an absolute necessity to open the golf course,” he said. “That stuff will all be there to them, and we’re going to slowly fill in the rest. Probably all the way through February we will still be shipping to them.”

Despite the devastating setback of the June 16 blaze and the months of down time, RHI held onto its customers and attracted even more business.

“We had three months’ backlog before the fire, so we kept all of that, and then we booked out another three months. So we almost have a seven-month backlog at this point,” Hatley said.

He was inspired by the loyalty of his customers. “That’s what really drove me to reopen so fast.”

About 40 courses had awards on order when the business went up in flames.

“They gave pictures of our trophies away and are waiting for us to produce them and ship them to their winners late,” Hatley said. “That’s a really good testament to our product.”

Time to play

Even with all that support, he felt dejected and lost in the days after the fire.

“I was sitting at my house, and I’d call my dad and I’d be in tears saying I don’t know what to do,” he said.

He regards his father, Allen Hatley, senior partner of a Spokane-based farmland management company, as one of his two mentors. The other is his original business backer, skiwear entrepreneur Stan Kohls, former owner of the Seattle outdoor apparel maker Filson.

Hatley asked them how he could turn the summer into a positive. “And both of them agreed: You need to go play, you need to go win some golf tournaments,” he said.

It sounds counterintuitive, given the massive chore of rebuilding his company. He had to document the losses, contact customers and reconfirm orders, find and furnish a new facility, hire new employees and begin to replace inventory.

But a therapeutic diversion was the right choice, his father said.

“He needed something to look forward to,” Allen Hatley said. “Golf has always been his love, and it really served a very important role for him this summer.”

Reid Hatley hadn’t played a full competitive season since 2008. “As I got playing in more and more tournaments, I fell back in love with competitive golf,” he said.

He set out to win mid-amateur player of the year in both the Washington state and Pacific Northwest golf associations – and achieved both goals.

“It’s really what kept me sane,” he said. “It seems like it would be the complete opposite, but it was the main thing that kept me focused on rebuilding RHI. Instead of just sitting there and thinking about the fire 24-7, I had a distraction.”

The fire awoke some difficult childhood memories. But hitting the links again allowed Hatley to reminisce about learning to golf as a young boy, when his parents kept their Manito Golf and Country Club membership even as they struggled financially after the loss of their home.

“Because that’s what kept my sister and I out of trouble,” he said.

A 1999 Ferris High School graduate, Hatley was a standout golfer there and at the University of Arizona, where his career stroke average was 74.63. But a knee injury cut short his professional career, and he never made it to the PGA tour. He found himself burned out on competitive golf.

That all changed this year. “This was the first summer I can remember feeling like a kid again,” he said. “It really helped me.”

Ramping back up

The morning of the RHI fire, investigators knocked on the door of Hatley’s home in Hayden Lake. They asked to see his phone – a standard request to help rule him out as a suspect.

“I had nothing to hide. I was in my pajamas talking to them,” he said. “They told me what had happened. … As we got deeper into it, it was a lot bigger deal than I thought it was.”

Fire investigators had quickly suspected arson on top of a burglary.

“They really tried to cover up their tracks, but we could still see what was missing,” Hatley said. “All our toolboxes were empty. We had welders missing. All our really expensive gas tanks were missing.”

Another load of loot was left sitting by the front door. “I think that fire probably got out of hand even quicker than the people who set it thought it would,” he said.

The damage was complete, totaling millions of dollars in losses. One high-end piece of machinery, a waterjet for cutting metal, cost over $300,000. The fire’s heat was so intense, “We had thick aluminum sheets that were curled into circles,” Hatley said.

A Spokane Valley arson dog was brought in and detected gasoline and another accelerant where there shouldn’t have been any. The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are still investigating the crime.

Hatley doesn’t think the culprit had a vendetta against him. “I don’t want to believe it was like that. … It wasn’t personal,” he said. “I think it was more about getting their hands on some of the monetary value inside the building.”

But torching the place really hurt, he said. “I could have replaced that other stuff really quickly. But to replace an entire building, that’s not easy.”

Hatley leased that building and now is leasing a new, larger one nearby. It was three-quarters built when they moved in, giving him a chance to streamline the manufacturing process. “It is a lot more efficient of a setup.”

Before the fire, RHI had been operating 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Within two months afterward, the business was back to about half that pace, and now it’s up to 12-hour shifts with a dozen employees, including Hatley.

“A lot of them are brand new,” he said. “And we’re still looking to hire a few more, because we’re really ramping up.”

He expects it will take until spring to catch up and get back on schedule. “The orders are still coming in faster than we can produce them.”

RHI now has close to 1,000 accounts around the U.S. and in Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Netherlands, Spain and Australia.

Hatley will attend the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in January.

“I want to talk to our customers. They all want to know what happened and how we’re doing. What better way to answer their questions than to sit down and talk to them,” he said.

And he’s looking forward to visiting Bluejack National, seeing his products on display and playing a round of golf with Woods.

Allen Hatley said he’s surprised by his son’s intense recollection of their house fire a quarter-century ago. “I guess you don’t realize how that impacts a young child,” he said.

This year’s similar tragedy appears to have motivated Reid to come back even stronger, he added.

“I was impressed with how quickly he took it as a challenge and said, ‘I’m going to make my business better because of this,’ ” he said. “I think he’s a stronger person because of it.”

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