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March 2018

Birdsfoot Golf Club Family Values

birdsfootgolfclub.jpg‭

By Steve Donahue

Twenty-five banks all told the Lindsay clan the same thing—they were being denied a loan because a golf course just wasn’t going to fly in their isolated Pennsylvania town. But with multiple generations pitching in, the operation has taken wing.

To say Birdsfoot Golf Club is a family owned and operated daily fee operation only touches the root of the family tree. The Freeport, Pennsylvania, facility was built high on Buffalo Creek Farms, owned by the late Alexander H. Lindsay and his wife, Betty G. Lindsay. The front nine in 2002 and the back
nine the following year. (The course’s name is derived from birdsfoot trefoil—lush, green ground cover with small yellow flowers found throughout the property.)

“Our family core holds us together,” says operations manager Travis Lindsay, whose father, Al, and five of his uncles and aunts are owners. “We don’t force it, it’s just something people feel.

It’s magical and bigger than any one person. We’re all in it together. Being a family-run business is what gives it a unique feel. That’s why we continue to grow through the years.”

Other family members work, or have worked, at the course. Al’s youngest brother, Thomas, is company president. He and his wife, Beth, live in the course’s only house, which they built after the course opened. Andy, Al’s other brother, is assistant superintendent. Travis’ cousin, Michelle, is events coordinator and his brother, Joe, shot the website video.

Despite the course’s location 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in a town with a 1,780 population, the course hosted roughly 34,000 rounds in 2017, again proving wrong the 25 banks that denied the family’s plan for a golf course, proclaiming, “It’s too far out here, it’s never going to work.”

Betty Lindsay—Travis’ grandmother, Al’s mother—was involved from the beginning. Even though the family ownership group purchased the land to build the course from Alexander and Betty Lindsay, once they got the go-ahead to build, meetings with bankers, engineers, etc. were held regularly at her Betty’s home until her 2015 death, says Travis Lindsay. When she died, she left 34 grandchildren and 52 great-grandchildren.

The family chose Elwood Williard as course builder. The course architecture firm of Ault Clark designed the course.

“Ault Clark actually chose us,” says Al Lindsay. “One reason the builders and architects were excited to work on this project was there was no housing development involved, unlike almost every other golf course project they were doing at that time. The site was perfect. It was also attractive because we
didn’t know anything. We were just a farm family. We just said, ‘Do what you want with the land.’ ”

In 2001, after the family had weathered the permitting, building, regulations and water-pumping challenges they faced and then sand-seeded the entire golf
course, Al Lindsay called Travis and said, “You have to see what they’re doing out here.”

Travis grabbed a cart and drove grandma up to hole No. 2. “She yelled, ‘We did it! We did it! We really did it!’ ” Travis says.

“Just to watch it grow into what it is now is amazing,” he adds. When Travis first developed marketing programs, he didn’t realize how much locals think of
golf during winter.

“We tapped into that,” he says. “The first year I was afraid the discounts we were offering would hurt our business in the summer, but that isn’t what happened. When they buy four rounds they keep them and use them. That’s played out for years. The winter of 2010-2011 was the first year we
did the winter roundup, which has become a staple.”

Lindsay estimates that Birdsfoot sold the equivalent of 4,000 rounds in January and February, when the course wasn’t even open—about 12 percent of the
course’s annual play. “When their package of rounds runs out, many keep coming back,” he says.

The club holds many special events. For instance, it sold out two November tournaments with eight-inch holes cut into the greens three months early. There’s a fun Shamrock Shootout on St. Patrick’s Day and two Brew Ha Has in which two local breweries man every hole and there are food
stations everywhere.

“Originally the breweries were skeptical, but we sold it out with 144 people,” says Lindsay. “Now the breweries fight to get into it.”

Birdsfoot also celebrates Octoberfest, where 1n 2017 they sold out the Putt for Pie contest and “other neat stuff ,” says Lindsay, whose cousin, Michelle, assists with tournament ideas.

“Michelle also plays the bagpipes and sings like an angel,” says Lindsay. “Every event we have starts with her bagpipes. On a weekend we might hear her play five times if there are five events.

“When there’s a shotgun start we shoot off a canon,” he adds. “A neighbor who collects crazy stuff asked me if I had any use for a World War II canon, so now we blast off that canon every time an event starts.”

Birdsfoot holds about 150 outings annually, operating out of a tent. A small farmhouse dating to 1860 serves as the golf shop and clubhouse. “If you get eight
people in there, it’s a party,” Travis says. “It’s real homey. Then we put the tent out that people use after their events.”

Outings growth is steady. “The outings are big because they’re unique and simple,” says Travis. “I love our little 1860 farmhouse. It’s not huge, but it’s perfect. We’ve talked about building a clubhouse, as we do miss some opportunities, but I really like the way the operation is now.”

Steve Donahue is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

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