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Opinion
East County Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019 8 months ago

A round of golf Bradshaw family style in Bradenton

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Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Here's rooting for the pie-in-the-sky guy.

That would be Chris Bradshaw.

It took only 18 holes of golf to realize this is a guy with a ultra-positive view on life, and business, and people.

Chris believes in loyalty, and that if you treat people like family, they will come back to your table for another heaping helping.

Jay Heater

The table in this case is Heritage Harbour Golf & Eatery, previously known as Stoneybrook Golf Club before Chris, his brother, Jeff, and their dad, Gary, purchased the place a year ago along with a few other investors, such as PGA member Mark Bruce and Heritage Harbour resident Bryan Veith.

Now the golf business is a tough nut, kind of like hitting a 225-yard, 3-wood from the rough, over a lake to the green. Oh, and you have seven figures riding on the shot.

Chris is facing that shot at Heritage Harbour Golf & Eatery, and he honestly believes if he spreads goodwill through both his employees and customers, the positive vibes will insulate him against that errant shot that plunks into the lake.

About eight months ago, I played a round at Heritage Harbour, and stopped at the bar afterward. The young woman who was bartending couldn't say enough about the new owners and how much she loved her job now that things had changed.

If you have been around Chris, you get it. He just makes you smile.

Unfortunately, not everyone smiles and I saw the pain in his face as Chris explained he had to part with a few employees who didn't want to get with the program. You could tell it was an honest anguish.

Chris doesn't need a golf course. He has other business ventures with his brother and dad, such as Omega Science. where all-natural 100% hemp superfood is produced for dogs. But he wanted to make a positive impact on people's lives, he said, and he thought he could start with his new golf course employees and his customers.

It's his first venture into "a people business."

"There is a lot of learning," he said. "But we're here for the long haul. Our numbers are trending in a positive direction and we are doing whatever we can to increase the level of our product, and that is golf, the driving range, food and service. I think people can see what we are doing and it should yield results in loyalty. We are trying to run it like a family."

Fortunately, this particular business family includes Bruce, who has worked in the golf industry since 1993. He knows goodwill goes along way, but in golf, you putt for dough.

Bruce said that would have been tough a year ago because the greens were in bad shape.

"Primarily now, the greens are in 1,000 times better shape," Bruce said. "Our roots are much deeper. That is because of some heavy summer maintenance. We aerated six times. Usually you might do two. "

The greens already had the top golfing grass in TifEagle, so if the Bradshaw group could bring them back, it would be top notch all the way around. That has happened.

"People say they haven't seen the greens in this good of shape in 10 years," Bruce said.

The next item was clearing away the nuisance invasive bushes and grasses around the tee boxes, which in some cases prevented golfers from even seeing where their shots were headed.

"We peeled back the onion so the true architecture of the course could be seen," Bruce said. "We did some heavy cleanup."

Last April, Bruce said he would see less than 100 golfers on the course at peak season. This year, that play has doubled.

"For us, it has been about customer recapture," Bruce said.

Next came an upgrade in food service. While the clubhouse part of the business made up less than 10% of the course revenues in 2018, that percentage has increased to more than 30% as the Bradshaws have offered more special events, such as Super Bowl and Valentine's Day events.

"But golf still is the motor for the whole thing," said Chris, who said plenty of other improvements, such as dealing with subpar sandtraps, will be completed during a five-year reestablishment plan.

Oh, and there is one other thing. Chris' uncle, NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, has been doing commercials for the course and plans to continue promotional efforts.

Chris is glad he has a secret weapon who can spread the word that Heritage Harbour Golf & Eatery is the pie-in-the-sky place to be.

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