Thu February 28, 2013
Green Lake Pitch ‘N Putt Golf Course: The 30-Year-Old Family Business That Almost Died
Friday, March 1, is opening day at the Green Lake Pitch ‘n Putt Golf Course. The course has nine holes. The clubhouse isn’t much bigger than a roadside fruit stand. Admission is less than $10. For the thirtieth year in a row, the Taitch family will be running the place. But last year, the family almost called it quits.
It all started with a letter from the Seattle Parks Department. The Parks Department owned the land and the Taitch family was just a tenant. Dione Taitch recalled the letter’s message, "'Thank you for all your years of service -- and we have decided not to renew your contract.' That was like a sucker punch. I mean, I physically felt a blow to my stomach.”
Taitch had grown up on the course. She’d climbed the trees while her single mother, Marlene, ran the cash register. Now, Taitch is a single parent too. Her eight-year-old son, Jorryn, plays rounds with the regulars and he has quite a reputation. Ricardo Magana, 31, comes here once a week with his friends. Sometimes, Jorryn joins them. He beats them every time.
Taitch never wanted running the golf course to be her career. “I visualized myself in a business suit going to a 9-to-5, and making a lot of money,” she said. Sept. 11 drew her back to her mother and the golf course. The letter from the Parks Department had her asking, “Why am I doing this? Why am I going through all this work with very little financial payoff?”
The Parks Department said if Taitch wanted to keep running the golf course, she’d have to put in a proposal just like anybody else. That means she’d have to explain why she was the right person for the job. She’d been through this process before, but the recession meant other people would be competing for the golf course, too.
Taitch went through the motions of applying. But mentally, she prepared to lose. She believed what the Parks Department really wanted was a fancy golf course restaurant, or at least a latte stand. Things she couldn’t afford.
If there was a chance she would leave, she owed it to her customers to tell them. So she did. To her surprise, people stepped forward with offers to help. They offered to put in a latte stand. Taitch explained, “A couple of our regulars are construction workers. And they said, ‘Oh, I could build you a stand for nothing. You buy the supplies and just give me a free year of golf.’” But Taitch turned them all down. “I don’t know. I think a lot of people out here probably drink lattes. But I don’t think that’s why they’re coming here.”
Despite Taitch’s resistance to a latte stand, the community support continued to flow in. Customers kept asking who they should write to, who they should email. Taitch didn’t want the Parks Department or the City Council to be inundated with angry letters, so she put up a petition at the golf course clubhouse, a place for people to voice their support. The signatures poured in. Soon, she had almost 900 of them. “I was truly shocked,” she says. “That was the deciding factor that said, you know. I really want to do this. And that’s what made me put in the proposal of my life.”
Like Going After Her Dissertation
Taitch spent hours writing her proposal. She viewed it as her dissertation, as if she were going after her master's in business. After crunching the numbers, she determined she still couldn’t afford a latte stand, but she could bring in more snacks and merchandise. She could stay late and host regular glow-in-the-dark golf tournaments. She could host birthday parties. Maybe those things would pay for a latte stand.
Taitch sent her idea-packed proposal-of-her-life to the Parks Department. And then she waited. And waited. People kept asking Taitch, "Well, how’s it going? Have you heard anything?" Eleven weeks went by with no word from the Parks Department.
Then, Taitch’s birthday rolled around. She remembers telling herself, “I don’t think I want to know today, because if it’s bad news, that will totally ruin my birthday for life.” Then she received an email from the Parks Department. It said her proposal had been chosen. She called her mom. Then she told Jorryn, who was outside putting with some regulars. They all jumped up and down together.
“You couldn’t have slapped the smile off my face. It was a very happy moment. And then there’s that moment of ‘Wow, what did I just promise to do?’”
Taitch had promised to change. And once she started changing, she found she doesn’t want to stop. “I have grandiose ideas,” she said. “If we could get some coffee mugs in here that have some cute little – because I have a lot of cute little phrases that go on in my head. I'd like to turn them into t-shirts!”
It’s The Stories
Sometimes Taitch still reminisces about the path she didn’t take: the path of the successful business woman. But the truth is, she’s become that business woman. She may wear second-hand clothes instead of a business suit. But she’s fighting for her business. And she’s not alone.
She tears up a little bit as she recounts the stories of the people who showed their support: The woman whose dad brought her to the course as a kid. The grandfather who brought in his great grandson to get his picture taken in front of the winner’s board. The tattooed-out rocker who fell in love with golf because his friends dragged him out here one day. This is a place people share with each other. “There’s so many of those stories,” Dione said. “There’s a value on what we do that isn’t financial.”