Grand Prairie Golf Course sits quaintly on its 1,710 yards of gently rolling terrain. 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 Grand Prairie Rd. The front of the pro shop faces an expanse of green, and a tall, white flag pole hoisting an American flag that waves high above the one story building. A “life is good” sticker smiles in the center of the green door’s glass frame.
Entering Grand Prairie’s pro shop is like being welcomed into someone’s home. A faint aroma of baking chocolate chip cookies hangs deliciously in the air. Floral headboards adorn the windows and 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. Grand Prairie is a golf course with a woman’s touch as the homey decor is accompanied by explosions of pink throughout the pro shop: pink golf bags, pink apparel, and even a chest of pink and yellow balls, dispersed with the occasional white straggler here and there. Over 80% of all floor merchandise is tailored to women, except for three hanging men’s polos, and several non-pink golf bags and golf balls.
Ann Roscheck, manager of Grand Prairie, stands smiling behind the counter in the back of the pro shop with her Daisy dog, Bogie. [insert description]. The Kit Kats, the Thursday night women’s league, pour through the door wet and sticky from a rainy two hours of golf.
“Ann, I have a complaint,” bursts Sylvia Tyler, 65, approaching the counter in her purple polo and purple plaid shorts combination. “You didn’t tell the golf gods to turn the rain off!”
“Every year on Thursday, for the last two years, it rains for the Kit Kats,” Ann explains. The Kit Kats are one of Grand Prairie’s oldest leagues. Sylvia, for example, has been a Kit Kat for 22 years.
“We have our own niche here at Grand Prairie,” Ann says. Unlike the typical golf course, Grand Prairie is only 9 holes and caters to “old betties, young kids and college students.”
Ann and her husband Jim 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.”
[insert description of Jim]
Previous to Grand Prairie, the couple managed the three city owned golf courses for 28 years: Eastern Park, Millham, 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 grand child -- the third in four months.
He says that clientele is what differentiates Grand Prairie from the larger golf courses he has managed.
“Grand Prairie is more family friendly where as the other courses cater more to men. Here it’s women, more seniors, and more children on a course better suited to their skill level.”
It is this unique clientele that has differentiated Grand Prairie 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. “Golf has really gone down since 9/11. The sport can’t keep dropping and survive.”
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. “Our lifestyles have changed,” she continues. “Fathers are more involved with raising their children, and it’s expensive. If they can get around the course an hour, as opposed to five, they’re saving time and money.”
Grand Prairie is helping to redefine golf by appealing to new types of golfers and changing the stiff stereotypes associated with the sport.
“Golf can be fun, it’s okay for golf to be fun,” says Anne.
That is why Grand Prairie has created an environment that welcomes new comers and doesn’t shy away from families and children.
“Most big courses don’t embrace children, they actually kind of cringe. But we love children, she says.” In addition to junior leagues, Grand Prairie also hosts instruction at their course for the Junior Golf Association (JGA).
Ann provides lessons for golfers of all ages and all skill levels, often handing off her appointment book to Jim when he’s in town to take refuge in the air conditioned pro shop.
“New golfers feel comfortable here,” Jim explains. “People unfamiliar with our golf course think they’re going to come here and zip around and play unimpeded, but that’s not the case. We have people learning out there.”
Tom Button, 51, has been coming to Grand Prairie since 1990. He lives half a mile down the road, first coming to the course with his two sons. They participated in JGA instruction and learned how to golf at Grand Prairie. Their youngest son, Zach, now 22, worked at the course 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.”
“We’re all about families,” Ann explains. “We know our customers and we know their families. People walk in, they tell you their life story, and bring all their children.”
For Ann and Jim golf and family are synonymous.
“Golf has always been a huge part of our family,” Jim says. “Our kids have all worked at the golf courses, our parents have all worked at the courses -- it’s always been a big part of our lives.”
“In fact, I met Ann Marie at a golf lesson,” he says as a large grin stretches across his sun-tanned face. “I swept her away from her boyfriend and changed her life forever.”
Ann bursts out in a fit of laughter, and nods her head. “It’s true,” she smiles.
The couple plans to keep Grand Prairie in the hands of their family.
“Eventually, the plan is for Jim to retire from his current position and move back to Kalamazoo full time and retire to Grand Prairie,” she says, giving him a slight nudge. “He’d spend his days giving instruction and cutting the grass.”
Jim lets out a loud cackle, running his fingers though his white-grey hair.
“That’s what you get when you marry an older woman,” he says. “But you’re right, Grand Prairie would be a nice place to retire to.”