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Brewster Forecasts Bright Future for Salt Lake County Golf
(First in a series of stories covering Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City golf courses, including stories on the professionals and superintendents at all of the city and county courses. This series will then expand to include similar stories on other golf courses, professionals, and superintendents in all counties of the state.)
By Joe Watts
Jerry Brewster keeps his nose to the grindstone. He’s not a glad-hander or a grand-stander, he just plugs away day to day.
Brewster has been the Director of Golf for Salt Lake County for a year now without a lot of fanfare or feather ruffling. He isn’t one to brag on himself or draw attention, and perhaps few in the golf community are aware of or appreciative of his broad based background in golf management
As director of golf he is responsible for managing the operations at six county courses, Old Mill, South Mountain, Meadowbrook, Mountain View, Riverbend, and Mick Riley. He reports that despite the recession they are all doing well, that the revenues at each of the courses are covering operating expenses.
“The downturn has caused us to postpone critical maintenance needs, but each of our courses has generated enough revenue to cover operating costs,” Brewster said. “We have weathered the storm and we are now moving into a period of great opportunity.”
“This year we will retire the debt obligations at Riverbend Golf Course and that will give us a chance to catch up on needed improvements and maintenance needs,” he said. “In just a few years we will also be retiring the debt at Old Mill (2017) and South Mountain (2019). We are very optimistic about the future of public golf in Salt Lake County.”
Brewster is well prepared for his leadership role. He graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in economics and has wide experience as a golf professional with both public and private courses.
Brewster started golfing at the age of four, but it was always second fiddle to other activities. At Alta High School he was an outstanding athlete in football, basketball, and baseball, but didn’t play golf. He went to Dixie College briefly but soon transferred to the University of Utah where he began his interest in and focused his studies on economics. He landed a job at the Federal Reserve to help him through school. He played public golf during those college years, but it was not focused on the amateur tournament circuit.
After graduation he went to work for Dun and Bradstreet in what could have been a career position, but an odd turn in the road sent his life a different direction.
He was invited to play in a pro-am with Mike Kahler, the head professional at Park Meadows. He played well, shooting a 66 as Brewster recalls, and Kahler, who was looking for an assistant pro at the time, offered him the job. Much to his parents’ distress, he took the low paying job and seemingly abandoned his business career for golf.
Two years later Kahler left Park Meadows and Brewster was named head professional at Plumas Pines Golf Course near Lake Tahoe. Two years later he was invited back to Park Meadows as the head professional. That was during the time the PGA Senior Tour event was being played at Park Meadows and he helped manage that tournament.
In 1998 Crown Golf purchased the newly constructed South Mountain Golf Course and wooed Brewster away from Park Meadows to be the head pro where he also served as on-site manager during construction of the course and clubhouse and organized all the start-up operations. When Salt Lake County purchased South Mountain for $15 million the county retained Brewster as the head pro and he had the difficult task of steering the course during a troubled time of public controversy surrounding the purchase of the course.
Brewster weathered that storm diplomatically and kept his focus on making the course successful and ignored the politics of it all. It was not an easy time.
Two years later the county asked Brewster to move to Old Mill to fill the head professional vacancy left by Devin Dehlin. Dehlin brought that course on line about the same time as South Mountain was being built. Old Mill has been a huge success and is currently the top revenue producing golf course in Salt Lake Valley.
Brewster left the county in 2006 to accept the GM/COO position at Jackson Hole Golf and Country Club where he was responsible for working with architect Robert Trent Jones in the renovation of the golf course, and helped complete the construction of the 12,000 square foot (LEEDS certified) clubhouse.
“That experience was big for me,” Brewster said. “I was glad to be there. I worked with great people and learned a lot. It made me a better professional.”
It was during that time that he courted and married his wife Kandace. She owned an insurance agency in Salt Lake City and it was more convenient for him to move than her and so he moved back to South Mountain as the head professional once again.
Last year the county selected him to take the place of Tim Fernau as Director of Golf when Fernau decided he wanted to return to being a head professional at Meadowbrook.
“We have had to put capital improvement and maintenance budgets on hold. We have maintained the nuts and bolts, but some maintenance has been deferred. This year we are turning the corner, mainly because our debt service at Riverbend ends this year and frees up $750,000 per year,” he noted.
”Many people think that South Mountain has been a drain on the county golf system, but that is a bad rap. South Mountain ranked fourth in revenue in a 2005 study between Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County golf courses. It has generated more revenue than expenses in all but three years. Yes, it hasn’t been contributing to paying off its debt, but golf course managers don’t have much control over how a course was financed. Our job is to control expenses and maximize revenues,’ he said. “South Mountain has a very good future. It also has provided a non-typical municipal golf experience at an affordable rate to the golfing public.”
Old Mill is the top revenue producer in the county system with annual revenues of $1.4m to $1.8. Riverbend is second with South Mountain third.
“Old Mill’s location is ideal and there is no competition in close proximity,” Brewster pointed out. “It provides a great service for residents of that area of the county. It is a jewel for county golf,” he said.
Riverbend’s high point was in 2001 when it generated $1.5m and it has always exceeded $1m annually.
Mick Riley has as many nine-hole rounds as any course in the system with 55,000 rounds.
Meadowbrook suffered some serious flooding this year with water levels three-feet high. The flooding affected holes one, two, and three and hampered revenues and increased costs, but finished the season strong.
“All of our courses have been maintained beautifully. They are in as good of condition as could possibly be expected. Our superintendents are special people and we are proud of the conditioning at all of our courses,” Brewster said.
Garin Lamph is the Director of Maintenance. Garin is a former University of Utah football player and supervises the work of all the other superintendents. Curtis Hirase has been at a Salt Lake County course for over 30 years, initially at Meadowbrook, opened the Old Mill, and is now at South Mountain. He has been critical to the success of county golf,” Brewster added. We also have Leslie Varoz, Matt Hyland, Chuck Calder, Randy Jensen, and Ed Brewer who have over 100 years of collective superintendent experience, running the maintenance operations at the county courses.
“Another thing we are really proud of is how well the superintendents and professionals work together at each of our facilities. They are working as a team,” Brewster said.
The current assignments of the head professionals have Tim Fernau at Meadowbrook, Brent Baldwin at Riverbend, Brian Schram at Old Mill, Mark Owen at Mountain View, Steve Young at Mick Riley, and Wade Olsen at South Mountain.
Brewster also pointed out that men’s and women’s leagues play a significant role in the success of each of the courses.
“Leagues help build a loyalty and a pride in the golf course and that has many spinoff benefits. Men’s and women’s leagues are the foundation of Meadowbrook,” Brewster said. “It has a league activity almost every day of the week.”
Brewster gives high marks to the County Council, Mayor Peter Corroon, and Michelle Nekota of the Parks and Recreation Department for creating a spirit of cooperation through every stage of policy making.
“They have all been great to work with. We all seem to be on the same page when it comes to golf, which is that ‘golf is a legitimate part of a community recreation program and that our mission is to provide the citizenry with affordable golf on well maintained facilities,’ he said. “The actions of county leadership have always been supportive of that goal.”