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April 2017

The Royal Family

theroyalfamily.jpg‭By Steve Donahue

The Kings do it all at Pennsylvania’s Moccasin Run Golf Club, which the family has owned and operated for the better part of three decades

It’s all about relationships at Moccasin Run Golf Club. Whether it’s the family that has owned the Atglen, Pennsylvania, daily-fee facility for nearly three decades or how they have always treated their customers, relationships are what make the, well, relationship work.

“You have to build relationships with your customers,” says Moccasin Run owner Curt King, who remains the course superintendent while running the operation with his wife, food-and-beverage manager Grace King. “You have to spend time with customers and provide them with a good product, something they think is a value. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to call customers by their name when they walk in the door, and [to] ask about their family.”

Curt’s father, Paul, the original owner, purchased the land in 1968 and farmed it with corn, alfalfa, potatoes and soybeans for 20 years before transforming it into a golf course in 1986, completing all 18 holes in spring 1988. Some of his five sons, including Curt, worked at the club all three years while some came on board later. Paul—before resigning as president and CEO in 2004—gifted ownership percentages to his sons. Eventually, an attorney determined Curt would be the operation’s and corporation’s CEO.

“Mom and dad had the majority ownership,” Curt recalls. “In 2006, I made an offer. Several months later, I bought out my parents and four brothers.”

One of Curt’s oldest brothers, Rodney, now 60, has been Moccasin Run’s head professional since 1992. A younger brother, Kent, works on the grounds staff and is considered Curt’s assistant superintendent. Over the years, some cousins worked as waitresses, bartenders and some on the grounds staff.

When the course was built the property was treeless, so the Kings planted some 2,000 trees, estimates Curt. Thirty years later, many grown trees directly affect play, so he’s in the midst of a multi-year, tree-management program. “I’ve probably already removed 150 trees in attempting to make it a more fun, fair, playable golf course,” Curt notes.

However, Curt realizes he should focus on being an owner and spend less time as superintendent.

“I wear too many hats and I’m trying to decrease that,” he acknowledges. “As owner, I need to spend more time in the clubhouse with my customers, but I thoroughly love working outside on the course and don’t want to give that up totally. During these tough times, finances are what makes or breaks me, so I’m also the superintendent. Ultimately, decreasing the payroll by wearing many hats is paying the bills, loans and such.”

However, Curt admits reality is setting in. “I’m reaching the point where I would like to allow myself more time in other places where I need to be more of an asset,” he says. “This might be the first year where I’m actually looking at superintendent applicants to see if anyone would be an asset here.”

Moccasin Run has been stuck on 25,000 rounds a year since 2012, Curt says. “Prior to that we were declining since the ’08 meltdown,” he adds. “We stopped the decline, but it’s been difficult returning to that 30,000 to mid-30,000 number. We’re managing and we’re doing better than just staying afloat, but we’re sure not knocking the doors down. It’s a grind.

“I’ve been fortunate to have been able to sustain that and even continue to make numerous improvements after buying big-ticket items through tough times,” he adds. “But I don’t have lots of overhead and don’t have a big payroll or staff. Otherwise, there’s no way I could do that.”

The Kings live across the road from the clubhouse parking lot, on one side of the driving range. Curt commutes to work in a golf cart.

“It wouldn’t be for everybody,” he says, “but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Grace is my right hand here. I wouldn’t be anywhere without her. She’s phenomenal. She’s my secretary/treasurer—she’s my board.”

Curt and Grace meet once monthly with the board, as well as with Rod and assistant golf professional Chris Johnston. “It’s nice to have someone like Grace with so much integrity,” Curt explains. “She graduated with an accounting degree, and while she’s not a CPA, she’s phenomenal with the administrative books and also does all the catering.”

The Kings aren’t sure if the family will continue running the course once they retire. “Grace and I are working through the succession plan now,” Curt says. “We’ll have to see if the kids are interested. Right now this is our life, good or bad. We’re here seven days a week, 15 hours a day making it happen.”

Steve Donahue is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

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