T.A. is taking care of business

By |  September 28, 2018 0 Comments
Todd Barker Jr. and Todd Barker Sr. (Photo by: Tom Lebsack)

Todd “T.A.” Barker Jr. (right) looks to his dad, Todd Sr. for guidance. “He knows what good golf is,” says Barker. (Photo by: Tom Lebsack)

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, from founding the National Golf Foundation and the Club Managers Association of America to his work advocating on behalf of superintendents and elevating their profile.

The award includes a Golfdom cover story celebrating the person’s accomplishments, as well as expenses-paid trips to both the Golfdom Summit and the Golf Industry Show. It is with all due respect that we present this award in Mr. Graffis’ honor.

When last we heard from the protagonist of this story, he was nervously laughing about the time he charged $10,000 on his personal credit card to cover his chapter’s annual meeting expenses. That was April 2014, in a story about the work of the GCSAA field staff and how they were helping smaller chapters grow.

The $10,000 has been reimbursed and the then-president of the Intermountain GCSA has seen it paid back, plus interest.

T.A. Barker, CGCS, superintendent at Fore Lakes Golf Course in Taylorsville, Utah, is an advocate for getting more people on the golf course — kids, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities. He also was an advocate for superintendents as a golf radio talk show host on ESPN 700 in Utah. More recently, he was elected to the GCSAA Board of Directors.

Now Barker adds the title of 2018 Herb Graffis Businessperson of the Year to his résumé for his work in the family business in the Salt Lake City golf market.

Todd Barker and sons (Photo by: Tom Lebsack)

Barker shares his love of the game with his sons. From left: Peyton, 10; Greyson, 3; and Boston, 7. (Photo by: Tom Lebsack)

Keeping greens, not reading them

Barker is a third-generation superintendent, working his entire career at his family-owned golf course. The course is centrally located south of Salt Lake City between Interstate 15 and Interstate 215, and features a 9-hole executive course and a 9-hole par-3 course along with a driving range and practice green.

The course, built by his grandfather on family farmland, opened in 1974. When Barker was a baby, his family moved to a home between No. 2 green and No. 3 tee on the par-3 course. Barker’s earliest golf memories are of chasing his father out the door in hopes of catching a ride in the golf cart to go fix divots and pick up cigarette butts while his dad changed cups.

“I always tell people that I was the only kid you’d ever meet who never wanted to be an astronaut,” Barker says. “My dream was to be a golf course superintendent.”

“He just wanted to spend time with his dad,” Todd Barker Sr. says of those days. “It was pretty obvious he also loved the work. As he got older the jobs got better… now he’s much more knowledgeable in terms of agronomy than I ever was.”

That’s high praise from his dad. Men striving to live up to their father’s image, pity T.A. — Todd Barker Jr. — because in his father he has a doozy of a namesake to live up to. Along with being a dedicated family man and influential local business owner, Todd Sr. is a member of the Utah Golf Hall of Fame, a five-time Utah Golf Association Player of the Year, a five-time Salt Lake Amateur champion and a two-time GCSAA National Golf Champion. (Fun fact: T.A.’s grandpa, Vaughn, also won the GCSAA tournament back in 1977.)

T.A. says he’s no hack (he won the Division Four Championship at the 2015 Golf Industry Show in San Antonio), but a long time ago he realized his future was in keeping greens, not reading them.

“I gave up a golfing career a long time ago, and I’ve always found the science behind golf more interesting than actually playing,” Barker says. “Dad is my biggest critic, which makes me better. He knows what good golf is. As long as he’s happy, I know the course looks good.”

Peyton and Boston Barker (Photo by: Tom Lebsack)

Peyton (right) and Boston Barker are just two of many kids who learned how to read greens at Fore Lakes Golf Course. (Photo by: Tom Lebsack)

A livelihood and the future

The Salt Lake City area is rich with majestic mountains and great golf courses. Golf tourists traveling through the area might not have heard of Fore Lakes. That’s OK — the course isn’t designed for them.

“It’s a great facility to take your first step in golf. It’s affordable, there are a lot of leagues,” says Bill Walker, the former executive director of the Utah Golf Association, now executive director of the International Association of Golf Administrators. “The greens are great, and there’s a large practice putting green and chipping green. If you’re talking about getting kids into the game, it’s ideal. It’s right off I-15. It’s just a great set-up.”

An adult walker pays $12 to play the 9-hole executive course, $10 to play the par-3. A senior pays $10 for the executive, $7 for the par-3. The price of a beer ranges from $2.25 to $2.50, the quarter variance depending on the cerveza’s country of origin.

Barker believes Fore Lakes’ practice putting green is the most-used golf green in the state of Utah. Seeing people on it constantly makes his day.

This Utah course is surprisingly diverse. Beyond the beer league, the women’s league and the couples league, there’s the veterans, the Pacific Islanders and the Special Olympians, among others. A busy day is 300-plus 9-hole rounds with 100 plus visiting the driving range throughout the day.

The father of three (he and wife, Natalie, have three children, Peyton, 10; Boston, 7; and Greyson, 3) loves it when kids play the course. He’s embraced the Youth on Course program to encourage more young golfers to visit Fore Lakes. A kid buying a $10 membership to the program can play the par-3 course for $1 any time, or the executive course for $4. The difference is subsidized by the Utah Golf Foundation.

Fore Lakes Golf Course sign (Photo by: Tom Lebsack)

Built by T.A. Barker’s grandfather in 1974, Fore Lakes Golf Course has been instrumental in growing the game in Utah. (Photo by: Tom Lebsack)

“One time,” Barker says, “I drove up to a group and I said, ‘Do you guys know about the Youth on Course program? Every time you come here, it would only cost you $1 if you show your card.’ One of the kids in the group, his brain clicks and he says, ‘That means I could have played five times today!’ Getting those kids to play is my livelihood, it’s what feeds my kids and it’s the future of the game.”

“T.A. has never said no to anyone,” Walker says. “More players, more diversity. A lot of the veterans go back and play there because it’s such a welcoming place to go. T.A. seeks out ways to get customers there.”

‘The radio guy’

There’s a problem when a person becomes known for saying ‘yes’ — that means more and more people will ask for favors.

And that’s how T.A. Barker became a radio personality.

He originally was to be the guest on a Utah golf radio show broadcast Saturday mornings with Paul Pugmire, executive director of the First Tee of Utah, as host. But shortly after his first appearance, Pugmire asked him to become a regular.

“There’s a reason I asked him to join the show,” Pugmire says. “He has two areas of expertise: 1) he’s a certified superintendent from Penn State, and 2) he knows as much as anyone about growing up on a golf course, running a golf course, owning a golf course. A long time ago I worked on a grounds crew, so I have a soft spot for maintenance. But we were able to have impromptu conversations on the radio show that we never would have otherwise had without T.A. And he taught me things about golf courses that I never knew!”

“Before (at Fore Lakes), I was known as the superintendent, but now when I’m out on the range I’m known as the radio guy,” Barker laughs. “I don’t know how I ended up on the radio. Paul and I are polar opposites but we mesh together well. I’m a big proponent of slowing down green speeds, so we talk about that kind of stuff.”

Barker recently retired from the radio show because of his new responsibilities as an elected member of the GCSAA Board of Directors, a position that thrills Barker.

“Serving the 18,000 members of GCSAA is an honor. Since being elected to the board at the Golf Industry Show, I have found the staff and the board of GCSAA live our mission every day,” Barker says. “It’s been a lot of work that fills my heart with joy knowing that I contribute to our mission every day. We truly are the global leaders in golf course management.”

Pugmire says it wasn’t the radio show or the GCSAA election that made Barker’s name known throughout Utah.

“T.A. and his family matter way beyond Fore Lakes… you have to remind yourself that T.A., his dad and his grandpa are running a golf course, because they’re all over Utah… the Barker family is a family that matters in Utah golf,” Pugmire says. “T.A. is involved and serves both the golf community and the Salt Lake City community. He’s a guy who gives back. Fore Lakes participates in all the programs — Get Golf Ready, Play 9, you name it.”

More of the spotlight

The spotlight seems to have focused on Barker lately. Around the same time as this story was being written, he was nominated for Utah Section PGA Superintendent of the Year – Public Golf.

Megan Huntsman, program director for the Utah Golf Foundation, is happy to see Barker’s success. She manages the Youth on Course and the Veterans Golf programs, and owes some of her success to Barker, as he was one of the first adopters of both programs.

“I understand T.A. a little bit because he grew up in golf, and I grew up in golf,” Huntsman says. “He’s not in golf because of the family connection, but because he genuinely loves it. He loves golf because of the people… and you can’t go wrong with people involved in Utah golf. It’s a family game here, because it has to be — we have big families here.”

Todd Sr. is happy to see his son’s success as well. “(T.A.) is a go-getter, he has lofty goals,” Barker Sr. says. “I’m happy to put in a little extra time for him to support him. We’re blessed, we’re not the only family in the golf business here… and we just keep chugging along.”

“I don’t process it well,” Barker says about the accolades after a Sunday afternoon installing an irrigation system in his yard. He can’t help but choke up a little. “I’ve never realized how people look at our family. I know who my dad is and what he accomplished, but for me he was just dad. Golf put food on the table.

“We owe golf nothing, and golf owes us nothing,” Barker continues. “I just love this industry, not even golf… but people enjoying golf, kids enjoying golf and knowing I impacted their day.”

So the guy who charges $10,000 on his personal credit card for the local chapter meeting expenses — the same guy who charges local kids $1 to tee it up at his course — is a good businessman?

Indeed he is. If Herb Graffis were here today, he’d look at Fore Lakes and congratulate T.A. for taking care of business.

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