Last September, the Golf Course Trades published an interview with three remarkable sisters who own and manage a golf course in Highland Heights, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland. (See: “What Would Taco Tuesday and Kids Movie Night Do for Your Golf Course?”) The trio had taken over management and the day to day operations of StoneWater Golf Course and the Rustic Grill Restaurant.
Since renovating and then reopening the property in June 2016, Whitney, Lindsey and Kathryn Neidus have turned the once-struggling facility into the busy heart and hub of their community. Despite the task being a true labor of love, it has come with demands and challenges.
Over the past four years, the sisters have measured time both in days that felt endlessly long and weeks that sped by in the blink of an eye. They have restructured their lives and the lives of their families around the demands of StoneWater, but then again, the living, breathing nature of golf courses tend to demand such sacrifices by those who choose to make this their life’s work.
And just when they might have been ready to exhale, to feel like they were comfortably reaching their stride in the business, 2020 slapped Highland Heights, along with the entire rest of the world, squarely in the face with the COVID-19 pandemic.
All Hands On Deck
In much the same way as employees at your own golf course no doubt responded, the crew at StoneWater dealt with the early days of quarantine using whatever strategy worked best in the moment. Food service went to take-out only. The golf pro washed dishes in the restaurant. Everyone scrambled to do what was needed to function within the parameters available. As Lindsey said, “There was a point when it was all hands on deck, and everybody had to do what they had to do to keep it going.”
With the Rustic Grill limited to carryout food service for roughly ten weeks, the sisters looked for new and better ways to serve customers and club members. “We got very creative with it,” explained Whitney. “What started slow has now turned into another business for us.”
The facility’s new “other business” includes curbside pickup packages for “Date Night at Home” with prix fixe (pronounced pree-fiks) dinners. Other new specialty offerings, such as cookie decorating, pizza baking and movie night kits, were purposefully designed to serve the wants and needs of socially distanced families, many of whom no doubt were dealing with advanced stage cabin fever. The take-out kits even included an adult survival kit that contained a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine, along with a cheese and charcuterie plate.
“Before the pandemic we had a very small carry-out business,” Whitney noted. “I feel like carry-out is now a business that is going to stay with us.”
“The prix-fixe dinners started slowly and then really took off,” said Lindsey. “We offered a limited menu with selections, at a fixed price. Soon, we started having people ordering regularly. We had couples in their seventies who would do pick up every week. We had a mom and daughter who ordered the meals weekly. We even had groups of friends who would pick their dinners up at different times and then have a Zoom dinner party together. During the carryout only phase, we really tried to keep the selections fresh and new for people. Those were crazy times.
“We try to accommodate people to their comfort level. The restaurant is back open, with conscientious social distancing practices in place. Some people are very excited to come back to the restaurant and eat on the patio. But we still have a lot of people who prefer carry-out and we are delighted to serve them in ways that keep them comfortable.”
Serving from the Heart
Much of the facility’s outdoor event venue currently is in use for socially distanced restaurant seating. “Now that we’ve reopened,” said Whitney, “we are back at our capacity in the restaurant. We’ve made use of the real estate available to us and expanded our outdoor seating area. Everybody is really spread out, with tables at least six feet apart and we are adhering to the mandate of no more than ten people to a table. We’ve even got tables set up on the cart paths. For some reason, people love being seated on the cart path.”
Golf is Booming
The stress and restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic created a pent-up demand for fresh air experiences, regained personal freedom and the chance to get back on the golf course again. As of late July, rounds of golf at StoneWater are up roughly thirty percent, year-over-year.
In general, golf courses nationwide are benefiting from golfers who are eager to play. But facilities that tend to rely heavily on the hosting of local tournaments, weddings, reunions and other activities that have been curtailed by COVID are lagging behind.
Although StoneWater Golf Club isn’t hosting the same types of events they have in the past, they are still finding ways to serve the needs of their marketplace. Recognizing that kids and parents have been cooped up together much too long, StoneWater has restarted its kids’ golf camps. Camp sessions are limited to six children per session, and the golf pros work with only three children at a time. While these ratios may be less profitable for the golf course, they are more needed and appreciated by parents than ever before.
The Neidus sisters have also become quite good at hosting golf tournaments using staggered tee times, mobile scorekeeping and meal stations that can be either grab-and-go or socially distanced seating depending on the client’s preference.
Why the Relationship Between the 18th Hole and the 19th Hole is Critical
From pre-COVID-19 to the post-pandemic present, the sibling owners of Le Tre Sorelle, the corporate name of the Neidus brand, have focused on being highly transparent in their safety protocols. They’ve been nimble and responsive in creating and delivering solutions to serve the new and changing needs of their community, their clientele and their employees. They have recognized unmet needs and opportunities, and they have used StoneWater Golf Course as a tool for knitting their community back together, despite COVID-19’s best efforts to unravel daily life.
In the same way, a great golf course draws more diners to the clubhouse restaurant, a great restaurant brings more people to play the game. People are going to golf. They are going to eat. Offer quality experiences in dining and in play, and both restaurant receipts and rounds of golf will reflect your efforts.
The Neidus sisters clearly understand the critical relationship between food, drink and golf. Maybe their intuitions and acumen were inspired by their parents who believe the joys of life should be paired with savory dining and adult beverages. Perhaps the sisters understand how to grow a golf course, restaurant and event business because, as women, nurturing others comes to them naturally.
Most likely, however, Kathryn, Lindsey, and Whitney’s awareness that food and golf are often best experienced together happens because each of the three is a really good business person, not to mention the fact that collectively, they are a force with which to be reckoned.
Linda Parker has been writing professionally since the 1980s. With clients in finance, sports, technology, change enablement, resorts, and nonprofit global initiatives, Linda helps organizations communicate their stories in meaningful ways to the people they most want to reach. She has authored, ghostwritten, or contributed to more than a dozen nonfiction books. Linda is a member of the Authors Guild and the Golf Writers Association of America. You can connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org