By Mina Williams Enterprise editor
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — During these tough economic times it’s heartening to find a small business success story. Hardy Golf, which operates the Ballinger Lake Golf Course, is one of the bright points in a challenging time.
Edmonds resident Tyrone Hardy and his wife, Carol, initiated the Mountlake Terrace-based business Sept. 9, 2005. The couple celebrated their own nuptials in the clubhouse banquet room that they now manage.
Hardy, a Professional Golfers’ Association member, has been in the golf business since 1997. He has worked at Everett golf courses, the Golf Club at Echo Falls in Snohomish and courses in Seattle. He was the head golf pro at Stanwood’s Kayak Point Golf Course in 2004 when he heard that the nine-hole Ballinger course had closed.
“I was at a point in my career where I had to consider joining a large contract management operation,” said Hardy, who writes a column for The Enterprise. “Leasing the course from the city of Mountlake Terrace, and starting Hardy Golf, just felt like the right thing to do.”
By the time Hardy sealed the deal on Ballinger and got the keys, the course had been closed a full year. This posed a challenge for the fledgling company.
“Golfers are creatures of habit and the course had fallen off the radar,” he said. “Luckily in 2000 the course was remodeled.” That remodel allowed the course, which lies in a flood plain, to better drain water.
In a business that is reliant on weather, Hardy said this past summer has been tough. However, he said, the course continues to draw new people.
“In this economy, people are conservative with their money,” he said. “People are looking for ways to scratch the golf itch. Playing nine holes instead of 18 saves money. Playing closer to home saves money.”
Hardy’s company strategy is to manage several courses. During a period in 2009, Hardy Golf also managed Gleneagle Golf Course in Arlington. Over the nearly two years of operation, rounds rose 30 percent and losses were slashed in half.
“We operated with a lean budget attitude,” Hardy said. That same attitude is played out at Ballinger.
“Nine holes is not the primary market for golfers,” said Hardy. “But there are good things to be said for this course.”
Hardy reaches out to area players and blankets the area with his message that the regulation nine-hole course can be played without a big investment of time or money. On average, the course takes two hours to complete, compared to five hours for a 18-hole course. Greens fees are $15.50 to $17.50 at Ballinger.
“A big segment for us is after-work players,” said Hardy. “During the week we are filled with retirees. Neither of these groups want to spend a lot of time or money and Ballinger is a perfect fit.”
Ballinger is not a typical pitch-and-putt course, Hardy said.
“Ballinger is a golf course where you need a full bag. It can be difficult and it attracts good golfers along with players who just want to have a fun family outing,” Hardy said.
Pars are three, four and five. A series of small ponds tighten everything up and keeps a player’s interest. “The remodel put teeth into the course. Golfers are rewarded for good shots,” said Hardy. “You have to hit with control. The course is a great training aid.”
Hardy uses technology to reach his targets with customized marketing. He has developed a detailed customer database so that he can reach out to golfers by email with offers that match their preferences for play. Hardy also can look at his bookings and craft online specials on the fly to fill in the gaps. It’s not uncommon, he says, to spot golfers in the parking lot surfing the Internet on their smart phones seeking the day’s best deal at the course.
Ballinger’s banquet room also has seen success despite the sluggish economy. Business is up from last year, said Hardy. The 150- to 200-person room capacity is just the right fit for downsized parties.
Ballinger Lake Golf Course
23000 Lake view Drive, Mountlake Terrace
Open sunrise to sunset, every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas
9-hole; three, four and five par regulation holes
Full service pro shop
Food and beverages available
Clubhouse available for banquets and parties