Sports and Outdoors

     
   



Harper carries on family legacy at CCCC
By Kerry Yancey
Monitor Staff Writer

KEMP–Growing up as the son of a PGA tour professional golfer, it’s not unusual to expect Larry Harper to make golf his life.
Harper has been the general manager at the Cedar Creek Country Club since 2001, and was the club pro for two years in the middle ’90s.
His son, Chris, a junior at Kemp High School and a member of the Yellowjackets’ regional-qualifying golf squad, has hinted he may follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, and Harper’s okay with that.
“It’s a good business, and a fun business,” Harper told The Monitor Wednesday.
A Kansas native, Harper grew up in Fort Worth, where his father, Roland Harper, was the club professional at the Colonial Country Club for more than 30 years.
The elder Harper was a long-ball specialist on the PGA tour in the early 1950s, before settling down in Kansas to raise a family.
Roland Harper came to the Colonial as the assistant pro around 1960. He moved into the club pro job around 1961 or ’62, where he stayed until 1991 or ’92, when he “retired” to teach golf for another six or seven years.
Larry Harper admits he didn’t get into golf really early.
“Dad had me start caddying at age 12,” he said. From caddying, Harper moved into the equipment end of the golfing business – cleaning and storing bags, repairing clubs and fetching range balls – and did that until he was around 21 and in college.
He worked about a year as a groundskeeper on the Colonial course.
“I kinda liked that, but I just wasn’t used to it,” he recalled. “In retrospect, it probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea to stay with it.”
After college, Harper decided to stay with golf and went to San Angelo for about a year.
In the early ’80s, Harper became the assistant pro at the Dallas Country Club, where he remained for about six years before moving to Wichita Falls.
At Wichita Falls, he was involved in the Weeks Park MGA tournament, which draws hundreds of youngsters to the links.
He became the head pro at the LaVista Country Club, but moved into the management end when he joined Jim Culbert Golf, headquartered in Las Vegas, Nev.
Harper, however, soon became disenchanted with the corporate approach to the sport.
“With corporate ownership, they don’t have the individual golfer in mind,” he said. “It’s just a money-maker.
“I just got tired of how they were operating,” he added. “I said this was not what I got into the business for.”
Harper moved across the country to North Carolina, but returned to Texas in 2001 when his father became terminally ill. Roland Harper died in March, 2001, just before his son joined the CCCC.
As general manager, Harper had to deal with a major crisis in January, 2003, when the clubhouse burned to the ground.
“To be quite honest, it (the fire) probably was a blessing,” Harper said. “Through donations, property sales and insurance, we ended up with a clubhouse debt-free.”
Customer service is the key to the CCCC’s return from that crisis, and its future, Harper said.
“I’m more interested in the customer than making a profit,” he said. “Of course, you have to make a profit, but I’m more interested in the customer.”
As the CCCC general manager, Harper says its his job to make sure he supports his employees, and allows them the space they need to work together and for the good of the club.
“As I look back on (his teen years), I just enjoyed dealing with people,” he said. “In management, you work with your employees. We’ve got a good group of employees here, and I enjoy seeing them succeed.
“Whether it’s customers, members or guests, it’s enjoyable to watch them succeed,” he added.
Most people don’t see a private country club – owned by its members – as a business, but the CCCC really is seven different businesses under one roof, Harper said.
“We sell service – that’s all we sell,” he said. Getting the right team together makes it possible to provide that service, he explained.
Team members include Mike Horton, the club’s golf pro, course superintendent Bob Matous and chef Erol Elma, who has turned the club’s restaurant into a highlight for members and visitors alike.
“We get people here from Dallas, and they say they’ve tasted nothing better,” Harper said.
In the office, bookkeeper Donna Baker and membership director Karon Grimes keep the club’s finances pointing in the right direction.
Of course, the key to the club’s success is its board of directors, Harper said.
“Without the board’s support, no matter how good your manager is, he can’t do anything,” he added.
The Cedar Creek Country Club has worked on expanding its youth program during the last three years or so, as Harper looks to expand the game’s appeal among area youth.
“Dad had a great love for the game, and he imparted that to me,” Harper said, adding golf is actually a good fit for smaller schools with limited budgets.
“Golf is one of the few high school sports programs where small and rural schools can compete and win state,” he said. “If you’ve got five players, and if they all shoot even par, they’ll win everything.
“We’ve got some kids who play consistently – every day – and that helps them develop,” Harper added. “We’ve had some go to summer tournaments this year, and we haven’t had that kind of involvement before.”
The key is golf players don’t have to be outstanding athletes to be involved in state-level competition.
“You don’t have to be tall, you don’t have to run fast, and you don’t have to be big and strong to play tour-level golf,” Harper said. “It’s all about coordination, balance and timing. It’s not about strength.”
In fact, big, strong guys – football player types – have difficulty playing golf well.
“It’s very difficult to cross-train with other sports,” Harper said. “You’re not looking for upper-body strength. In fact, that type of weight training interferes with your swing.”
Offering a competitive arena helps develop programs around the area.
“Kids love to compete,” Harper said. “If you can provide a competition format, it will spur the development of everyone.
“I see this area, with Eustace, Crandall, Kemp and Mabank, becoming very competitive as a group,” he added. “It’ll make us all stronger.”


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