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    The “What” and “Why” Behind Nichole Inkel’s Journey to Ownership at Windy HillRead More


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March 2023

Like a Breeze

The “What” and “Why” Behind Nichole Inkel’s Journey to Ownership at Windy Hill

By Michael Williams

From time to time, Golf Business contributor Michael Williams profiles NGCOA members about their golf lives. He talks with golf course owners and operators about their start in the game, their triumphs and challenges as owner/operators and their advice to others in the business.

In this installment, we profile Nichole Inkel, LPGA professional and owner of Windy Hill Golf Course in Midlothian, Virginia, just outside Richmond. Inkel has been a course owner and an NGCOA member since 2020.

Michael Williams:
So let's get a little background. Where were you born? Where'd you grow up?

Nichole Inkel:
I was born, I was actually born in Royal Oak, Michigan, but we moved to Illinois when I was three. So I grew up in Springfield, Illinois.

Michael Williams:
And when you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Nichole Inkel:
Funny, I always wanted to be a professional golfer…or a detective! I wanted to be one of Charlie's Angels so bad!

Michael Williams:
I love that!  So, when did you start playing golf? Did you grow up in a golfing family?

Nichole Inkel:
My dad started my sister and me when I was nine.  He was a vice senior vice president of an insurance company at the time, and they got him a membership at the country club. So, my father was a huge sports man who had two girls, so he decided that my sister and I were going to play tennis, swim and golf at this club. I was not into swimming because you had to get up at 5:00 AM and I enjoyed tennis, but really just took to golf. And then as the years went on, it was just a huge family thing. We played together every Father's Day and every Mother's Day. It was just a huge part of our lives. That's one reason I fell in love with it, because we spent so much time together.

Michael Williams:
You were a competitive junior golfer and college golfer, right?

Nichole Inkel:
Yes. One of my best friends was a boy who was a very good golfer, and his dad just kind of took me under his wing and started putting me in some tournaments. Back then there weren't really any tournaments for girls, so I grew up playing with the guys. I grew up playing in these tournaments, and the most exciting part for me was that I was actually beating them. It was really fun and competitive, and my parents were great. They put me in tournaments and my dad never missed a tournament until the day he died. I still have the friendships that I gained throughout those years of playing competitively.

Michael Williams:
You didn't eventually go pro, but you went into golf course management and being a working professional. Tell me about that transition.

Nichole Inkel:
I had always planned on turning professional,  until I was in a car accident when I was in my early twenties, so that's what changed everything. The accident put me down for almost 10 years. And the reason I'm into golf now is because golf pretty much saved my life through that whole thing. I lost my memory. I couldn't walk, I couldn't read, I couldn't write. So it was a 10-year hiatus for me to just go and rebuild myself and my brain. And that's pretty much how golf kind of helped me because I couldn't really do anything, but for some reason I didn't lose my ability to know how to hit the ball.
As part of my rehabilitation, instead of putting me in grocery stores and things like that, they put me at a golf course. Yeah, for the first five years I really couldn't do anything. I had back problems. I had broken bones, so I couldn't physically, it was really hard for me to do anything. I couldn't even remember how to keep score.

So, I just volunteered and tried to get my PT and OT through golf and the community, and the pros just kind of took me under their wing. When I started playing with superintendents, I started playing with the golf pros. So that's pretty much how the business side of it came to me. I really enjoyed the business aspect of it, so I just started trying to get educated and that was my path.

Michael Williams:
Such an amazing and unique path. Now, you've worked at some pretty special facilities. Talk to me about your career in management as a teacher and professional.

Nichole Inkel:
I would say that the biggest jump for me was when Desert Mountain (Arizona) contacted me kind of out of the blue. I think that's where I really got into the business side and the teaching professional side. Desert Mountain is one of the top country clubs and top teaching facilities in the country and I loved it there.

Michael Williams:
And when did you decide that you wanted to be an owner/operator?

Nichole Inkel:
Well, that just kind of fell into my lap. I was here in Richmond, Virginia, in 2012, just for a very short time teaching at a golf course, trying to get the programs up and running. After I was at this facility for a while, one of the owners wanted out, so they talked to me about being part owner. My first reaction was, “Are you kidding me? I don't even know anything about owning a golf course!” But I also thought, “I would love to. Absolutely.” But I just wasn't ready mentally and I wasn’t educated enough. That's one thing with me. I don't do anything unless I'm really educated and absolutely a hundred percent I know I can give back to the community. So in 2020, I got a call that they were definitely interested in selling it. At that point I had been in Arizona for 11 years educating myself about the business , so I decided to take the chance and I came to Midlothian in 2020, but I told them to give me some time before taking over. I wanted to be an undercover boss, to learn about the facility. So I played with the members, and I gave lessons. But I also asked questions; What do you like about this place? What do you not like about this place? What can we do? Can they do better? And I thought, gosh, I could do this. The previous owners had it for 30 years. I've now done it for two years and I'm tired, but I love it. I absolutely love it.

Michael Williams:
What's the best part of being an owner/operator, and what's the worst part or the hardest part?

Nichole Inkel:
I think the best part is that I meet different people from different backgrounds and people who wouldn't necessarily come across me day to day because of golf. It's a great opportunity to just meet people and build relationships and have conversations.  I love meeting new people and then getting them involved in the game because there's just so much opportunity and networking in this environment and the golf environment is fun. It's productive. You've got plenty of talk about things to make real connections and not even networking when you're in a business.

Going back to my family, we were a very, very close family because we were on the golf course for four hours dedicated to each other.

I mean, granted, there were no phones back then. And that's what we're trying to do up at Windy [Hill]. We're really trying to make it more family oriented and have these tournaments for them. The biggest downfall is that the stakes are extremely high. As an owner, you're either the beloved hero or the hated goat.

Michael Williams:
Not the GOAT, the greatest of all time, right?

Nichole Inkel:
Exactly! When golfers don't like the value they're getting for their money, they're usually not afraid to let you know. And the down part of that is I'm always willing to listen. I have three keys to the company: culture and empowerment; hire well; fix problems fast and empowerment for my team. The only true way to fix problems fast is empower staff to make decisions and execute them. My biggest problem is supply and demand for good employees and good vendors. When you have an angry golfer, that's an easy fix. But when you have supply and demand issues, that’s tough.

Michael Williams:
I have to ask: Being a woman owner/operator places you in a distinct and oddly small kind of group. Do you feel like that has presented any special challenges for you?

Nichole Inkel:
That's such an interesting question because I get it all the time. I would say that the only real struggle that I've had at times is being taken seriously.  I’ve had to let people know that I am educated, I do know the golf business, and I am committed to make this one of the best golf courses around. Getting people to buy into that is sometimes a little tougher than if I were a man.

I think it's a little intimidating for women to go into golf. I mean, it's a men's industry. But it's changing. And, quite honestly, I don't lean on that. To be honest with you, the way I look at myself is I am a person who owns a golf course and hopefully everyone's going to respect that.

Michael Williams:
Okay, so two more quick questions. Tell me how being an NGCOA member impacts your business?

Nichole Inkel:
If we go back to my being educated, I love the knowledge. Knowledge is power. And when I first was approached about NGCOA, I didn't know anything about it. Thank God they did! The people that I have met and the networking that I have to reach out to is amazing.  Hey, what are you doing about this? Or, have you ever encountered this in your business? It's just brought so much more to Windy Hill. I've gone to the conference for two years now and I've come home and told my staff, my brain is so full right now. I need one day to chill out before I come and tell you everything because there's just so much good information.

It's things that are helping me help my staff and even my members. I love it. I didn't know that when you're a golf course owner, you're kind of out here. There is something wrong every day. With this association, I have somebody that I can contact. There isn't anybody I have contacted who has pushed me aside. Actually, they are checking in on ME and seeing what WE need. So that's what I love about it. And I get to meet people like you.

Michael Williams:
Blushing! So lastly, what advice would you give to someone thinking about buying a golf course?

Nichole Inkel:
My advice is that first of all, you’d better have a lot of patience. If you don't have patience and you don't like people, do not buy a golf course. I think that the biggest thing is to be educated. I think that is one reason that I am successful so far, is that I make sure that I am educated and that I know what we need to do to make things right. But not just the golf course side of it. I'm there for the people. They are my success. My advice is to get to know your members, get to know your environment, and just be there for them and make sure that you listen to them. I will say this, and I tell myself this: You cannot take everything that somebody comes in and says personally. It's just that people want to pay and get what they deserve. And they don't understand what's going on behind the scenes. They don't understand what we're going through. But being educated, being very patient and absolutely being there for the people…do that, and you're going to be successful.


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