'Prepared' Pinewild Thrives
Things are good at Pinewild Country Club. In a time when golf courses all over the country are struggling to maintain, Pinewild is thriving.
Why has this complex with two high-end courses, a par-3 course and a golf instruction school been able to keep its heading when others around it are losing theirs?
"Things are going well because we've been prepared for what's coming down the pike," said General Manager Chris Little. "We haven't laid off a single employee or cut back at all on the quality of our golf course maintenance or service.
"We're still putting money into our courses maybe not as much as we'd like. It's easy to make money when the markets are good and the economy is booming. It isn't that easy now, but we're doing fine."
Perhaps one of the main reasons for Pinewild being able to maintain a high level of operation in tough times is a membership of 915. That many dues being paid regularly each month provide a nice financial cushion.
"The membership has provided insulation for us by creating a steady cash flow," Little said. "Our members have been very supportive and we've weathered the recession better than we anticipated. We do have some package play, but it accounts for only 12 to 15 percent of our play. If we were relying on 80 percent, we would definitely have been affected more."
Pinewild features two excellent courses, the Magnolia, designed by Carolinas Hall of Fame architect Gene Hamm, and the Holly, a creation of the great Gary Player. Both are quality layouts and strong enough to host professional tournaments.
"Every hole was completely redone from 80 yards out," Little said. "We rebuilt all the tee boxes, added 150 yards to the overall length and rebuilt all the greens. Our greens were 20 years old. We gave them more elevation and created more risk-reward situations.
"We wanted to create multiple options such as bump and run shots."
Little is quick to offer praise for the course conditions to Director of Maintenance John Robinson and Superintendent Shawn Giordano.
"These guys were instrumental in our renovation, which was about 60 percent in-house," he said, "and they're responsible for keeping the courses in top condition."
Gus Ulrich, one of the premier players in the Carolina PGA Section and a renowned instructor who has recently replaced Tom Ream as head of the Pinewild Golf School, likes the changes.
"I think they're fantastic," he said.
Ulrich is no stranger to Pinewild members. He was an assistant and teaching professional there for five years from 2001-06.
"Tom did a great job for us, but he had an opportunity to move to Prestonwood in Cary and decided to take it," Little said. "Gus had been here before and we had no hesitation in bringing him back."
Ulrich, who has won several CPGA section events, was happy to return. He had been an instructor at Forest Creek Golf Club for a couple of years and was operating the eGolf Academy at Pine Needles when Little called.
"Chris said Tom was leaving and he thought I might be interested," Ulrich said. "It didn't take long for us to come to terms. I'm excited to get here and see a lot of familiar faces. Pinewild has a wonderful membership. It's a nice facility and is a perfect getaway for members."
Over the years, Ulrich has enjoyed success on the course as well as in his teaching methods. He has won two North Carolina Opens and the 2001 Carolinas Open. He won the Pro-Pro title with Kelly Mitchum, an instructor at Pinehurst Resort, and he teamed with Little to win the Pro-Assistant championship during his first stint at Pinewild.
"I enjoy playing in the major events and I want to stay competitive," Ulrich said. "I feel that by being competitive, I can share my experiences with our students, especially the junior players. Golf is not only about mechanics; it's mental. I feel that being active makes me a better instructor."
Ulrich doesn't plan on making a lot of changes to the school that Ream started and built.
"We're going to add a few facets to the range and the short game area, and we'll have a different video system and add some programs for members," he said. "But there won't be any radical changes."
Ulrich believes in the simple approach. "We try to keep it as simple as possible," he said, "with fundamentals coming first. I believe in a good impact position I think that's one of the most important moves for any player."
Both Ulrich and Little stress that the golf school is open to the public, not just to Pinewild members.
"We cater to the county, the entire area, even as far away as Raleigh," Little said.
"I'm really excited about working with junior players," Ulrich said. "They're the future of golf."
For information about Pinewild or the instruction school, call (910) 295-5145.
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