Lew Thompson and Son Trucking, Inc. started in 1983 with a single truck and has since grown to over 200 trucks and 300 trailers. When the Huntsville, Ark., native isn’t keeping tabs on all the turkeys his company is hauling for Butterball, he is managing two golf facilities 1,500 miles apart from each other — Forest Dunes in Roscommon, Mich., and The Bridges in Montrose, Colo.
Forest Dunes features three of the top 50 public courses in the United States according to Golf Digest — #28 Forest Dunes and Tom Doak’s reversible course The Loop, with its Black routing ranking #45 and the Red routing #47.
THE THOMPSON STORY —
I had a heart attack at the age of 42 and my doctor told me I needed to exercise. All of my customers had been wanting to play golf with me but I could never take them up on it because I had never even hit a golf ball before. So, I decided golf would be the way I would get exercise because I love being around people.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
I can’t wait to get to work. I go 100 miles per hour all the time. I don’t like to sit around. I have to have a project on I’m working on.
You originally stated your desire to get into golf was to get some exercise, expand your networking for your business development and lower your stress level. Curious to know — how have you fared thus far?
I’m in better shape now than I was 18 years ago and it has been good for business as I’ve picked up a lot of new customers. I really enjoy the relaxation of getting out on the course to play.
You’ve been in the golf industry for a number of years now. How have things changed or not changed since you first got involved?
A few years ago I would have told you I was in the golf business. The biggest change is that now I would tell you I am in the hospitality industry. When our guests are on property, they are not just playing golf, they are eating in the restaurant, lodging, maybe entertaining clients of their own. The focus is taking care of our guests and their needs.
How would you assess the health of the golf destination market today?
I would give it an A. Destination golf is as good as it can get with the success of the many well-known national resorts. That is why they are continuing to expand.
Is there too much golf available to the public in Michigan? And, if so, how much of a reduction would assist those that remain in operation?
We are fortunate to be a state with a tremendous amount of quality golf courses. When you look at the Golf Digest top 100 public list, Michigan has 10 courses. What I can’t stand to see is when resorts get into the discount game. As an industry, we can’t continue to provide good golf when we are charging 50 or 75 percent off what we normally do just to get people in the door. We need affordable courses for people to learn the game and for those who maybe can’t afford good golf. But there is a big difference between a course that charges $20 greens fees and one that charges $100. I wouldn’t say we need less courses, but we need some of the destinations to stop devaluing the good golf product.
Many facilities tout the importance of customer service. Define the term and the approach you wish to see happen at your facility?
Customer service is anticipating the guests’ desires and exceeding their expectations. Attention to detail is key, from the conditioning of the course to the cleanliness of the property to the attentiveness of the staff. No matter how good the golf course is, if you don’t give good customer service the guest is not coming back.
Does golf still have a functionality for people who want to spend their time in a variety of different ways and not be stuck on a golf course for several or more hours?
Absolutely. That’s the reason why we added an 18-hole putting course and are currently constructing a 10-hole par 3 course. It is something that is enjoyable and quick. The industry is changing to answer the customers’ demands.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
I would speed up the pace. I hate slow play and nothing grinds me more than waiting several minutes on the tee box for the group in front.
The major golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA Tour, LPGA — are all seeking ways to attract Millennials, women and minorities to the sport. If you were advising them — what would you recommend they be doing?
I would have them encourage resorts to build short courses. To attract newcomers to golf, it needs to be a situation where they can play for an hour, hour and a half. A lot of people get discouraged with golf when they go play a tough course and they hit it in the water or can’t find their ball and they spend a lot of time looking for it. If they do find their ball they can’t get out of it. Short courses are fun, not a grind, and will draw people to the game.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
My friend Jeff Smith, president at Utility Tri State, told me several years ago when I got into golf, “Lew, it better be good. Because if it is good, people will forget about what it costs and they will come back for more. But, no matter how cheap it is, if it isn’t good, they paid too much and they will never come back.”
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