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Herb Graffis Businessperson of the Year: Putting money on Mooney

By |  September 3, 2020 1 Comments
Rick Mooney and his dog Wilson (Photo: Melissa Shelby)

He’s the person who made me aware that being a superintendent is a career,” says Sean Reehoorn, superintendent at Aldarra GC in Sammamish, Wash. “He’s the reason I went to Michigan State. He’s always given me good advice.” Here, Mooney walks the Whitetail Club golf course with his trusty companion Wilson at his side. (Photo: Melissa Shelby)

The Herb Graffis Businessperson of the Year Award is named in honor of Golfdom’s founder, World Golf Hall of Fame member Herb Graffis. Graffis was one of the first people to think of golf as a business when he and his brother Joe founded Golfdom in 1927. With his foresight, Graffis helped advance the game in numerous ways, including founding the National Golf Foundation and the Club Managers Association of America and his work advocating on behalf of superintendents and elevating their profile. It is with all due respect that we present this award in Mr. Graffis’ honor.

On Christmas Eve 2004, a fire burned down a multiperson house near Whitetail Club in McCall, Idaho. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The house was used to accommodate between eight to 10 golf course maintenance workers seasonally. Because McCall is remote, getting seasonal golf course workers to the area is challenging.

Now that this house was a total loss, it would be even more challenging to get seasonal golf labor. Thankfully, two years earlier, Shore Lodge | Whitetail Club — the resort and community that owns the golf course — had already put their money on Rick Mooney. The wheels began turning. Change was coming.

From sod farm to Cypress Point

The son of a cattle rancher, Rick Mooney got his start in the business when his dad bought a ranch in Boise, Idaho, that had a sod farm. When they were kids, it was Rick and his brother Bryan’s job to move the sprinklers on the farm. By the time he got to high school, he knew he wanted to work outdoors, so he took a summer job as a night waterman at the McCall city golf course.

From there, he went to work — at Coeur d’Alene Resort — and got a taste of high-end resort golf. He worked a construction job at Lake Hefner GC, Oklahoma City, Okla., then went to study turf at Michigan State University. His internship was at Cypress Point GC, Pebble Beach, Calif., working alongside Jeff Markow, CGCS. After college, Mooney bounced around, with stops in Arkansas and Washington before being named superintendent at Whitetail Club in 2002, the same year it opened.

“My parents had a condo in McCall for all my youth. It’s been a home of mine all my life,” Mooney says. “We get our share of challenges. Being a golf course that’s under snow for six months a year, we get snow mold and ice damage. But, you can’t beat the summers. It’s low humidity, and in my 19 years, it’s only reached 100 degrees F twice. Our average temperature in June, July, August is 83 degrees F.”

Townhomes near Whitetail Club (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Townhomes were built on unused land acquired for a new office. “I have been very fortunate to work for a company that’s progressive,” Mooney says. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

The golf season at Whitetail Club runs from May 20 to about Oct. 15, during which the course sees about 6,000 rounds. In this unusual year, the course is getting almost double the amount of play it usually gets.

“We thought play might be down, but that has not been the case,” says Adam Lott, formerly the assistant superintendent, promoted to superintendent two years ago. “I’ve never seen this much golf in my seven years of being here, and that’s with many of our tournaments being canceled.”

Land planning

Back to Christmas Eve 2004. Faced with a new dilemma — a burned-down house and having to tell eight seasonal workers they didn’t have a place to stay for the upcoming golf season — Mooney and the Shore Lodge | Whitetail Club team started a new plan.

“The idea was let’s take the insurance and make more of a dormlike lifestyle than a normal house,” Mooney says. “We built a central kitchen and 16 separate rooms with bunk beds, TVs and furniture in each room. That worked very well for the seasonal golf employees.”

Now that one building had sprouted up, Mooney considered how other parts of the operation — cooks, servers, housekeepers, etc. — could benefit from other types of housing opportunities in McCall. Shore Lodge | Whitetail Club was growing, and the need for more employees and more housing was greater. Mooney found himself off the golf course grounds more and more often, looking at land and existing properties and in the boardroom discussing potential new acquisitions for the company.

Beauty shot of Whitetail Club (Photo: Melissa Shelby)

While Shore Lodge | Whitetail Club endures challenges like snow mold and ice damage, summers are ideal, with low humidity and an average temperature of 83 degrees F. (Photo: Melissa Shelby)

The results are visible: Today Shore Lodge | Whitetail Club enjoys expanded office space, more living quarters for employees, a cafeteria and a workout center.

“The employee housing is huge for the company as a whole,” Lott says. “It’s a small tourist town. So either a) people can’t find housing because there’s hardly anything available, or b) the ones that are available are way out of their price range. Having pretty much on-site employee housing makes a huge difference in being able to hire our positions because if they don’t have some place to live, the chances of them taking the job are not good.”

Maintenance and development

It became clear at Shore Lodge | Whitetail Club that Mooney was no longer just the golf course superintendent. In 2017, he was promoted to vice president of maintenance and development. Now, if any new product is being added to the property — cabins, custom homes, remodels, land acquisitions — expect to see Mooney nearby with a rolled-up blueprint.

“(Mooney) has grown his career here from when he started as superintendent in 2002,” says Kaili Moss, director of human resources for Shore Lodge. “He now oversees everything maintenance, including the buildings and grounds, as well as development … real estate, construction. I know his heart lies on the golf course side, but the people he has brought up has created an amazing team for Whitetail Club.”

Whitetail Club | Shore Lodge staff (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

“(Mooney’s) retention on the golf maintenance team is amazing,” says Kaili Moss, Shore Lodge’s director of HR. “His people go away and then come back year after year.” (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

“I know that when I started here, I had no vision of where my job would take me,” Mooney says. “It’s taken me on a great ride. I’ve made a number of mistakes, and I was able to learn valuable business decisions by making mistakes and having an owner who allowed me the opportunity to work through the growth of myself in this role.”

While Mooney has moved up the ladder, it moved him farther from the golf course … but not entirely. “It’s for the best,” he says. “I went from being in the field a large part of the day to in to office a large part of the day,” he says. “I love the aspect of being out there with the guys. One of the reasons I was receptive to continuing on with the job advancement (is) I had good people working within my organization that needed to grow. I get a tremendous amount of pride in that the individuals I’ve worked with have gone outside the organization and advanced their career aspirations, or the ones who have stayed are getting fulfillment and are recognized for the work they do for the organization, as well.”

He’s mentored three superintendents who have gone to successful careers: Sean Reehoorn, Aldarra GC; Jay Neunsinger, Boundary Oak GC; and Ben Wilmarth, Eagle Hills GC.

“Rick knows this place inside and out,” Lott says of the golf course. “Having your mentor in your back pocket who you can call for help is such a great thing. Rick has more knowledge in terms of growing grass than anyone I’ve worked with. He’s super supportive. I know this because he cares about me and my family.”

Lott is one of those people who have benefitted from Mooney’s hard work in more ways than one. Family is important to Mooney, including his own family — wife, “Mush,” high school seniors Payton and Cael, eighth grader Quinn and his loyal dog Wilson — and his work family.

Shore Lodge sign (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

“(Mooney) is a prideful ambassador for Shore Lodge,” Moss says. “If you need something done, you call Rick.” (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

“I’m extremely proud to be here. Our company works tirelessly to interact with the community, staff and our members,” Mooney says. “We’re trying to ensure that we deliver a great launching pad for people to further their careers and create great memories,” he adds.

Mooney says he’s thankful for the memories he’s creating in McCall.

“On Saturday, I woke up my 13-year-old kid at 7 o’clock and I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got some friends who want to go skiing, do you want to go while the lake is glass?’” Mooney says. “He’s out there, he drops a ski and he’s skiing on one! We’re three weeks away from going back to school, and wow, we did this today? And, on the same day, we jumped in a plane and flew 40 miles to Joseph, Ore., and had lunch, me, my son and another guy and his son. We made a Saturday that you can’t write a blueprint for.”



1 Comment on "Herb Graffis Businessperson of the Year: Putting money on Mooney"

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  1. Ron Hass says:

    Your selection of Rick Mooney has my full endorsement. Having had the opportunity to work with Rick, his knowledge of the golf industry is only enhanced by his desire to see those who have had the opportunity to work with him succeed with their goals and desires going forward. A truly unselfish leader, willing to share every success with those engaged.
    And worth noting, the “smartest man” I know…

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