Don Rea – Baseball’s Loss is Arizona Golf’s Gain
Choosing Don Rea, managing partner at Augusta Ranch Golf Club, as the 2nd recipient of the AZGA Golf Star award was easy. You won’t meet another golf industry person more enthusiastic about growing the game and making sure customers are happy than Don.
Interestingly enough, Don’s first love was not golf, it was baseball. Not pitching, hitting or catching, but rather, calling the games. He was a professional baseball umpire from 1991-98, working 3 years in the Triple A Pacific Coast League. But after 8 years of calling balls and strikes and working many Major League Spring Training games, he didn’t know if he would make it to the Big Leagues.
“It’s really tough to move up, and I couldn’t catch a break.” said Rea. “As a Triple A umpire, you have a very short window to be assessed for promotion to the Major Leagues as the ruling panel may only see you once or twice a year. So I started to look for Plan B.” Via an off-season gig with UPS during the holiday season, the new plan came clearly into focus.His route included downtown Mesa with a stop at Riverview Golf Course.
It was there he met and became friends with General Manager Jim Mooney who suggested he consider becoming a member of the PGA. Don liked the idea so much he took his clubs on the road the following baseball season and played whenever and wherever he could. He studied through the wee hours and passed his PGA exam on his first attempt the very next year. “In golf, I could not be more blessed; if you can get to where God wants you to be, the doors seem to open,” commented Rea.
The first door opened in 1999 at Augusta Ranch, where he was one of the first employees to be hired. He worked part time in the cart barn and measured yardage for all the sprinkler heads. It wasn’t long before he realized golf looked more promising than baseball and he took the plunge full time. Over the next 8 years, he held a variety of positions, eventually becoming a Vice President for the management company managing the two courses.
July 2008 brought another milestone in Don’s golf career when he and a group of investors bought Augusta Ranch and he became the managing partner. “Owning a course is challenging and rewarding,” said Rea. “But the best thing is being able to do whatever you want to do without multiple layers of approval. We can try all sorts of ideas and see what happens. We make some mistakes, but we learn from them.”
The team at Augusta Ranch is all about being anti-cookie-cutter. Take movie night, which happens twice a year on the driving range, allowing families to enjoy an outdoor picnic on the golf course. How about setting up the practice range as the gathering place for the annual community picnic? “It’s important to be a good neighbor, and it gets people out to the course,” commented Rea. “They may not play golf the first time, but after the movies and picnics, many of them come back to take up the game later.”
The creativity doesn’t stop there. There’s the $5 lesson gathering for kids every Saturday, the after-school golf program, the monthly play-all-you-want pass, weekly golf leagues, tournaments and the Green Jacket Club.
While all of this creativity has driven more rounds and revenue to Augusta Ranch, Don believes the one thing that really makes the course different is his team and their commitment to welcome and appreciate each guest. Every new employee must read ‘Raving Fans’ within the first 3 weeks of employment. Then they take a 10-question test and if they fail, they risk losing their job.
“I believe bad habits are ingrained, so we review everyone within 3 weeks of their start date, give them a little test, talk about our service philosophy and ask a lot of questions about their job,” explained Rea. “It not only helps the employees, it helps us improve our internal communications.”
While Augusta Ranch takes the bulk of his time, Don still finds the hours to volunteer. He is currently secretary of the Southwest Section PGA and on the Board of Directors of the Arizona Tourism Alliance. “My family and I depend on golf for our livelihood, so you have to get involved,” said Don. “You must be in a seat at the table or everyone eats without you.”
We have no doubt professional baseball’s loss is our golf community’s gain. Don’s a creative professional who works hard at our game for the benefit of those around him, which is why we call him an “Arizona Golf Star”.