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June 2020

Recognizing Legacy Leaders of NGCOA

By Sally J. Sportsman

Like most stories, the story of the NGCOA has many roots. Established in 1975 as the National Association of Public Golf Courses, and then becoming the Golf Course Association (GCA) in 1983, the organization changed its name in 1990 to the National Golf Course Owners Association. The Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Midwest affiliate chapters may be considered the “founding chapters” of the NGCOA, having predated the national organization. The work and accomplishments of original affiliate leaders Kate Moore, Curt Walker, Gregg Acri and Ken Guenther forged the way for the collaboration and success of all who follow.

“The key leaders of the NGCOA affiliates maintained the base membership for all these years,” says Kate Moore, who retired after 21 years as executive director of the Michigan Golf Course Association and now serves as communications consultant for the organization. “I believe these individuals cared not only about their own states and organizations, but understood the importance of their relationships with the national organization.”

Moore was the first employee of the Michigan Golf Course Association, which was founded in 1976. An advocate of relationship building and taking advantage of the core knowledge that’s available, she cites Ken Guenther as her mentor.

“I met him right off the bat at the first conference I went to, and I’ve been riding his coattails ever since,” Moore says. “He’s a quiet leader, reflective and thoughtful.”

Moore often reminded her board of directors and volunteers that while they served the golf industry, they also were in the association business. It is that balance that these key leaders were able to achieve as they helped move their member golf courses forward, a catalyst to the growth of the NGCOA.

In 2017, Moore received the NGCOA’s Paul Porter Award for leaving an enduring mark on the MGCOA through her high level of commitment, service and leadership.

Curt Walker, recipient of the 2020 Paul Porter Award, founded the Midwest Golf Course Owners Association in 1979. Fostering a cooperative spirit among members, as executive director he developed programs that carried meaningful benefits. With first-hand experience, having run the nine-hole public golf course at Fort Snelling between Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, he understood the needs of golf course owners and operators.

“Our mission was education, networking and advocacy on behalf of our members,” Walker says. “I realized early on that a key ingredient for our chapter was to remain relevant.” An alliance with a major insurance company was one of many ways Walker achieved that goal.

Walker believes there are two paramount reasons why golf will remain important: It’s a bonding sport as opposed to a channel of aggression, as are many other sports; and it provides multigenerational fun.

“My son, grandson and I may differ on many things – hair, political opinions and hundreds of other things – but when we play golf together, we are all on the same page.”

Gregg Acri retired last year after nearly 14 years as executive director of the Pennsylvania Golf Course Owners Association, founded in 1975. It was wonderful, he says, to help owners cut expenses and raise revenue,  as well as put together a block of corporate sponsors and advocate on behalf of the membership. And he enjoyed the fellowship of the members.

“We were always working with the state legislature to let them know that golf course owners and operators are stewards of the land,” Acri says. “We always made our voice known, appropriately.”
One piece of advice Acri offers to golf course owners today is to have a loyalty membership program. This applies to all manner of courses, he says, from resorts to nine-hole mom-and-pop-owned courses and everything in between.

“There are exceptions,” Acci says, “but I guarantee that people who provide good service, conditions and programs that entice golfers to return will experience success.”

Ken Guenther, executive director of the Ohio Golf Course Owners Association since 1998, plans to retire this year. He says he appreciates the open, honest and friendly nature of the members. The Association was founded in 1968.

“Certainly, our workers’ comp program, managed by the state, has been a major benefit to our members over the years,” says Guenther.

Another thing Guenther and his organization attempted to accomplish – still in progress – is to study and try to change the way golf courses are valued for property taxes.

“We have been working with the state legislature and the county assessors’ association to come up with a standardized method to evaluate golf courses.”

As he prepares to retire, Guenther reflects on many memories.

In a tribute to Kate Moore, Guenther says, “I learned how to drink Starbucks coffee from Kate. She taught me to step up, coffee-wise.

“Of course, I always had to buy hers.”

 

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