Text: Greg Johnson
Quail Ridge Golf Club in Ada, Michigan is a busy, busy place.
It is a statement echoed by Gary Smithson, PGA Professional, who is in the middle of his first year overseeing the golf operation at the Raymond Hearn-designed public venue. The club, which is located minutes from the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, opened in 1999 under the direction of an investment group headed by Randy Erskine, Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member.
“Things are good with a lot of league rounds and golf outings,” Smithson said. “We do a lot of starts: 35,000 a year here. The upscale public golf market is strong, and we are putting our stamp on it.”
Smithson, 50-years-old and a veteran of working in the West Michigan golf market, said his initial goals upon taking the job were to create a nicer retail offering, add his management techniques to the operation, and integrate the new carts purchased.
“My main objective is to grow the business as much as I can, bring in new outings and provide a nice golf experience through retail, food and beverage, equipment, and the golf course,” Smithson said. “Whenever you come in for a first year, the whole staff is new and it takes a while for you to come up for air. At some point I will come up for air, and I know that I will be better prepared next year. Right now we have a good staff, and we are doing good work while learning more every day.”
Smithson also said the design and the conditioning of the course are great attributes that make success possible at Quail Ridge.
“The design gives you super generous fairways, big greens, and yet they are challenging and fun to play,” Smithson said. “The best part of that is, because you have the room to play out there, the wear and tear that you get at a smaller course, just doesn’t show as much. Ray Hearn did a great job of creating the space off the tees and giving golfers the ability to move through the course, hit some different shots and have fun.”
Tim Topolinski has served as the Superintendent at the course since it opened. He was recommended by Hearn, and Smithson said the work he does with his crew is fantastic.
“They work their tails off to keep a great condition at a busy place,” Smithson said. “[Topolinski] has been here since day one—which is a testament to his work in itself—but also it shows he knows this golf course: what works, what doesn’t work. He has it dialed in and does a great job here.”
The course has annual pass holders-members of about 100 individuals, and the focus is golf outings and league play. A new outdoor tenant wedding pavilion is also under construction, and should be complete soon. It will welcome groups of up 250 people, and includes a bridal suite, bathrooms, food preparation facilities, and a bar.
“It opens up another area of business for us, and helps us with the groups we already serve,” Smithson said. “I’m enjoying it here. In a few months I’ll be able to look back at the first year, figure out where we can get better and we will get even better.”