Monday, June 10, 2013

A Family Affair

Grand Prairie is a nine hole public golf course with 1,710 yards of gently rolling terrain. It’s located on Grand Prairie Rd., its namesake, just off of Drake Rd. Twelve golf carts are neatly parked in three rows to the side of the pro shop, a small, light blue wood-sided building that resembles the modest family homes that line the street. A “life is good” sticker smiles in the center of the green door’s glass frame. 

Entering the pro shop is like being welcomed into the home of Ann Roscheck, 54, manager of Grand Prairie. The combination of her kind face, framed by her golden brown bob, and the intimate ambience of the pro shop, creates a family feeling that hangs in the air alongside the faint aroma of baking chocolate chip cookies. Single plastic roses, bolstered by fake daisies and babies breath, are neatly compiled in clear glass vases centered on each of the six tables in the corner. A black frame on the countertop displays a picture of Ann’s son Anthony holding his newborn daughter Anna.

Behind the counter is Ann’s daisy dog Bogie, who immediately attracts the attention of two young boys with miniature golf bags strapped to their backs, entering the pro shop with their parents. The dad heads straight to the counter to pay for golf, whereas the mom scans the racks and walls of women’s golf equipment and apparel. More than 80 percent of all floor merchandise is tailored to women, except for three hanging men’s polos, and several non-pink golf bags and golf balls.
“Tommy, isn’t this cute?” the woman asks her husband, holding up a floral pink skort to her waist. He feigns a smile, but Ann is quick to jump in, sensing the husband’s disinterest.

“That will be perfect for golfing in the summer,” she beams, shining a white smile. “I need to get a few for myself.”

Unlike the typical golf establishment, Grand Prairie’s short course caters to “old betties, young kids, and college students,” according to Ann. It’s welcoming to newcomers and doesn’t shy away from families and children. In fact, along with junior leagues, Grand Prairie hosts instruction at their course for the Junior Golf Association.

“We’re all about families,” Ann says, tugging at her silver watch. “We know our customers and we know their families. People walk in, they tell you their life story, and bring all their children.”

Ann and her husband Jim, 61, have been operating Grand Prairie since 1991. The golf course is owned by the Township, so the couple leases the property in a series of five year agreements.

“We operate the golf course and pay the Township a percentage of our revenue from green fees and memberships,” Jim explains. “The concessions and merchandise are ours, but basically we operate the golf course inside and out for the Township.”

Jim looks as if he belongs in the pages of Golf Digest, sporting khaki dockers and a grey Ralph Lauren sweater, paired with white golf shoes. 

Previous to Grand Prairie, Jim managed the three city owned golf courses for 28 years: Eastern Hills, Milham Park, and Red Arrow.

Since 2000, the couple has been living in San Antonio, Texas, where Jim operates seven golf courses. Ann comes to Kalamazoo in April when Grand Prairie opens and heads back down to San Antonio when the course closes in September. They alternate between Texas and Michigan at least once a month, though they try to see each other every two weeks. Jim is currently in Kalamazoo awaiting the birth of another grandchild -- the third in four months.

To Ann and Jim, golf and family are synonymous, as it was golf that brought them together in the first place.

“I was seeing this guy, it was nothing serious but he was really in to golf,” Ann explains. “He tried teaching me, but every time we went out both of us ended up frustrated. So I decided to get a professional lesson and Jim happened to be my instructor.”

“I swept her away from her boyfriend and changed her life forever,” he says, a large grin stretching across his sun-tanned face.

Ann bursts out in a fit of laughter, and nods her head. “It’s true,” she smiles. 

The couple has been married for 27 years and, together, have five kids from their previous marriages. Their children and their parents have all worked at the golf courses they have managed. 

“It’s very much a family business,” says daughter Caitlan Stangl. Caitlan, 29, is a realtor at Jacqua Realtors in Kalamazoo. She has only worked at Grand Prairie for the 2012 season, but says that she has been associated with the course her entire life.

 “With Grand Prairie you really become familiar with all aspects of the business and can better serve everyone,” she says.

Caitlan has two daughters: an 11-week-old baby Annie, named after her mother, and seven-year-old step daughter Ella. As a mother herself, she is inspired by her parents, recalling a very pleasant childhood.

“We’re a blended family with exes and step children and half children and different fathers and mothers,” she says, exhaling heavily. “It all gets very complicated.” However, as busy and difficult as she knows it must have been for her parents, she remembers the vacations, fun in the pool, lemonade stands, and movie nights.

Caitlan has witnessed her parents’ relationship evolve throughout their marriage, and notes that the distance during Grand Prairie’s operation isn’t easy on them.

 “After this many years, this many trials and tests, they still want to be near and close to each other,” says Caitlan. “My mom will be sad when Jim goes back to Texas, but she has me, my brother and her grand kids to keep her company.”

Given the strong bond of the Roscheck family, it is no wonder why Grand Prairie deliberately caters to families. This family influence has helped Grand Prairie differentiate itself from the 10 other golf courses in Kalamazoo, and the additional 15 within Kalamazoo County. 

“We have a very unique situation in Kalamazoo because there’s too many golf courses for its population,” Ann says. This factor, combined with the decreasing popularity of the sport nationwide has put a lot of pressure on local courses to lower their prices.

According to National Golf Foundation statistics, the number of golfers in the U.S. has fallen by 13% in the past five years, and golf memberships have dropped by one million since the early 1990’s.

Time and money are key factors in the sport’s decreasing popularity. However, it is exactly these factors that have contributed to Grand Prairie’s success.
“When all the other golf courses were really struggling, we were doing really well,” Ann explains. When golfers couldn’t afford to play at their country clubs, Grand Prairie became a more economical option.

A round of golf at Grand Prairie is $8 and $14 to ride, compared to $20 to ride at Milham Park and $17 at Eastern Hills. Grand Prairie also offers special pricing for students, seniors, and juniors.

In addition to affordable pricing, seniors like Sylvia Tyler, 65, are drawn to the course’s short length.

“I’m old,” she says with a grin in her purple polo and plaid shorts combination. “I can’t get around like I used to. Nine holes is plenty.” Sylvia has been golfing at Grand Prairie for 22 years, and plays on the Kit Kats, the Thursday night women’s league. 

Ann has found that their nine hole course also suits the needs of families.

 “Our lifestyles have changed,” she says. “Fathers are more involved with raising their children, and it’s expensive. If they can get around the course in an hour, as opposed to five, they’re saving time and money.”

Tom Button, 51, has been golfing at Grand Prairie since 1991. He lives half a mile down the road, first coming to the course with his two sons. Both of them participated in the Junior Golf Association instruction and learned how to golf at the course. Their youngest son, Zach, now 22, worked at Grand Prairie for six years.

“With the kids out of the house we really just come out and play for fun,” Tom explains. His wife has just begun taking instruction from Ann and they both play on a mixed league, the Twilighters. “We know Ann and Jim really well so it’s a nice environment to play golf in,” he says.

Ann and Jim plan to maintain the family friendly atmosphere by keeping the course in the hands of their family. Ann says that eventually the plan is for Jim to leave his current position in Texas and retire to Grand Prairie. Two of their children currently live in the Kalamazoo area, and another is planning on moving back shortly.

“We both love Texas, but our family is here,” Ann explains. “We want to retire and spend time with our grand children. We also have parents here that we will eventually have to take care of.”

Ann hints that she’d like Jim to retire sooner, rather than later, and says that “he’d spend his days giving instruction and cutting the grass.”

Jim lets out a loud cackle and runs his fingers through his white-grey hair.
“That’s what you get when you marry a younger woman, they’re always trying to keep you going,” he says. “But you’re right, Grand Prairie would be a nice place to retire to.”

Word Count: 1,583
Intended Publication: The Kalamazoo Gazette

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