Area Golf: Emily Greens just wants you to have fun
EMILY – On a sunny morning with the golf course buzzing with carts and people of all ages playing golf, Gregg Gamble sat on the clubhouse deck at his Emily Greens Golf Course.
He greeted almost every person who walked near him by name and they returned the greeting with his name.
Gamble is proud of his connection with customers. He said it's one reason why his 18-hole golf facility is still open after he and his wife, Susan, purchased the property 13 years ago.
"We would be in that maintain category," said Gamble. "We certainly aren't thriving and a lot of that is simply location. I think the reason we're maintaining is because we just focus on customer service, good playing conditions and keeping our affordable golf principle out there."
Part of the good playing conditions, said Gamble, is doing something every year to enhance or improve the course.
Emily Greens Golf Course
Where: 39966 Refuge Rd. Emily
What: 18-hole golf course
Owners: Gregg and Susan Gamble
"Our very first project was on the front nine, where our greens were just like table tops. You fell off of them and your ball was anywhere from one to three feet below the hole. It was just steep. That left an impossible shot coming back.
"That was just the start of our projects. From then, we've added tee boxes throughout the course. We lengthened some holes, added forward tees. We leveled out and enhanced some tee boxes. All things to just improve that golfing experience."
Gamble said the improvements helped bring repeat customers coming back and made first-time players to the course enjoy their experience more.
"We aren't in the unlimited budget category so we do what we can with what we have," Gamble said.
But Gamble is cognizant of his surrounding area and his customer base. He said Emily Greens was the first course in Minnesota to include grandchildren on season memberships. In the six or seven seasons Emily Greens has included grandchildren about 2,000 children have played the course.
Gamble grew up near and worked at a golf course during his youth. While he went into a different field, his brother stayed in the golf business. After a few years, Gamble wanted to return to the golf business by way of ownership. He and his brother looked in the Twin Cities area as well as the then booming Brainerd lakes area and found Emily Greens in 2001.
Gamble said the key to their success in the earlier years was he and his wife both working at the course.
"That's always the challenge when you expand and purchase something new," he said. "From an ownership standpoint, you need to have someone there that is vested. You get to a stage where it would be nice if you could just hire people to do things and still make money and still maintain the standards that you established. But the only reason we can keep the doors open is because Susan and I are hands on and maintain that personal relationship with our customers."
Gamble calls himself and his staff the directors of fun. It's the motto of Emily Greens. A large sign greets customers as they approach the clubhouse and reads "It's all about fun."
"We at times have tauted ourselves as the friendliest golf course in Minnesota," said Gamble. "We want to have people walking in and feel that comfort and build on their excitement. They're coming here to have a good time. So we want to build on that excitement from the minute they get out of their car."
One way Emily Greens has tried to help people have more fun is to have a golf professional on staff. Dan Loken has been on staff for a couple of seasons and he's not the first. Emily Greens is one of the few courses in its price range of $26 for 18 holes on the weekend to employ a golf instructor.
"After our first year here, we looked at our clientele and 99 out of a 100 would have never of thought in a million years that they would take a golf lesson," Gamble said. "Our first attempts we actually had a golf pro on staff working the clubhouse for extensive amounts of time. That was successful in the sense the people here started realizing there is nothing wrong about taking a golf lesson.
"I think it has been wildly successful from our end in enhancing the golf experience. It's also helped keep people playing the game, playing a little more and, once again, enjoying it a little more."