by Kevin Sylvester, Buffalo Sports Page
During the last decade, golf in WNY has undergone some changes. Accessibility has been better with new courses like Hickory Stick in Lewiston becoming established, Country Clubs having found a resurgence with the economy and flexible offering (the shuttering of Westwood CC probably helped), and the WEB.COM Tour returned with the LECOM Health Challenge at Peak n Peek. Buffalo has its own golf ball with the offerings from OnCore Golf (try the Elixr), and an injury attorney gained headlines for becoming owner of a course in Orchard Park.
The purchase of Harvest Hill by Ross Cellino was the last big transaction of a course remaining a course. That’s until now. PGA Professional Tim Fries closed last Friday on the purchase of Glen Oak Golf Course in Amherst. Fries is a prominent WNYPGA professional that serves on the National PGA board. He competed in the Senior PGA Championship a few years ago, and leaves his longtime position of Head Golf Professional at Transit Valley CC. His longtime friend and fellow PGA member, Jeff Mietus will join him in running the golf operation at Glen Oak. It’s a big undertaking, but an exciting one. I had the chance to interview both about the transaction, and what golfers can expect from the original premium public golf course in WNY.
BSP: Tim, How long had you been thinking about owning your own golf course?
Fries: I had been completely satisfied choosing a career working on the private side of the golf business, but after having served on the PGA of America Board of Directors with very highly motivated entrepreneurs the past 4 years, I started seeking out opportunities this past spring. The ability to directly affect a facility from an ownership perspective became very appealing after seeing what inspired PGA Professionals are doing around the country.
BSP: How long did it take to come together? I mean, it’s not easy to just go and buy a golf course.
Fries: I initially approached the Glen Oak ownership from the Western New York PGA Foundation Board member perspective in that we were interested in partnering up with a successful facility to further our mission. I developed a positive relationship with them and quickly realized the potential to do something much bigger – I made an offer, developed a business plan, finalized a contract, secured financing, and closed on the facility last Friday. Start to finish was 10 months. I surely feel anyone that is motivated can do the same! Now that I know the process it would take far less time (the next time…)
BSP: Jeff, the two of you have been friends and co-workers for a long time. Do you think adding ownership will enhance things?
Mietus: Tim and I are great friends and have worked together in many capacities for a long time. We are both passionate about golf and promoting this awesome game to people who may not have been exposed to it. We also think it would be great to provide a country club quality experience to all golfers and make golf fun. We have a really great course here. The difference now, is we don’t have to worry about getting our ideas through a board or committee. If we want to run a program for Veterans or Kids, we just do it. Its exciting. Its also going to be fun to create this vision and implement it with Tim. Anyone who knows him, knows he’s great to be around and a consummate PGA Professional
BSP: Is it every professional’s dream to own a facility, and now that you guys have one, what’s next?
Mietus: I do think it’s every Professionals dream to own a facility and put your spin on the operation. A golf operation is a reflection of its PGA Professionals. They are high visibility, high contact people at the center of a golf club, so naturally their personality will be reflected. That’s pretty cool. I have worked with some great people at some of the best clubs in the country for the last 25 years, I will be taking the best practices from these organizations and bringing them to Glen Oak Golf Club. We hope to improve the playing surfaces and restore the course to its original Robert Trent Jones design. We will be adding a great teaching program including, Veterans programs, Junior programs, Learn to golf classes, Drive ,Chip and Putt. Professional club fitting, great merchandise and a lot more. We plan to create a vibrant operation for people who love golf or want to learn to play. Also, we are upgrading the food and beverage, My brother, the renowned chef and owner at Bacchus Restaurant (Brian Mietus), will be running our food and beverage. We are also working with other golf organizations, like the Western New York PGA and The First Tee to bring their programs and events to our facility. Lots of stuff going on, you can see why we are excited!
BSP: There are rumored to be several courses for sale in WNY, what made Glen Oak so appealing?
Fries: It is immensely appealing for many reasons. The Robert Trent Jones designed Glen Oak Golf Course and Banquet Center, originally named Ransom Oaks in 1969, has been a local favorite of WNY golfers for decades. It has big runway tees, large bunkers, big greens, and is a very challenging, fun layout. It has a great location minutes from the I-990 and within 10 minutes to the over 24,000 residents in 7,400 households in the affluent community of East Amherst. It currently hosts many philanthropic outings, multiple leagues, numerous weddings, stags, showers, reunions, and business meetings. I hope it can be the home of the various golf organizations in the Niagara Region including the WNYPGA and its Hall of Fame – a golf hub if you will. With the addition of planned fire pits, ice rink, groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, and enhanced and upgraded food & beverage services from Bacchus Restaurant, is has the immeasurable potential to be a 12 month recreational destination!
BSP: Tim, you hinted at some great plans there, and I’m into snowshoeing now, so that’s great to hear. But golf season is approaching fast. What can we expect this season?
Fries: It’s all about golf to start. We hope to enhance the customers’ experience by upgrading the Golf Shop, its offerings, and service; captivating the many students of the game by an innovative and robust teaching and coaching experience; and attention to detail on the golf course and its conditions with the latest agronomical practices by the USGA.
Mietus: I think the upgrades will be seen immediately. With Tim and I working daily to make this place great, you will see improvements soon. The course, first and foremost, the golf shop, range balls, food and beverage etc. It will take a little time to create our vision, but we will be working towards it every day. And, Glen Oak will definitely remain public. It will have many of the amenities of a private club, but will always be public. We are welcoming leagues, outings, beginners, anyone who wants to play golf. The golf shop is open to the public, same with the restaurant. That’s our vision.
BSP: What has the reaction been from the community?
Fries: The reaction has truly been humbling to me and my family. It has been overwhelmingly positive by the community. They hear of our goals of becoming a PGA Reach facility by positively impacting the lives of youth, military, and diverse populations by enabling access to PGA Professionals and the game of golf; striving to be a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary; and endeavor to make Glen Oak not just an offering to the community, but a key part of it, and a place where all individuals and families are welcome. We have been contacted daily by people and businesses interested to be a part of something we feel can be special.