A Budding Beauty
The golf course business in Canada can be a challenging one. On top of a short season there is plenty of competition. When you factor in a location further away from a big city, you have to imagine that it takes a lot to keep people coming to play your course.
That’s exactly the case for the husband and wife team of Dennis and Joan Sobil. The charming pair have been welcoming guests to their Blue Heron Golf Course near Lanark, Ontario since they took over the operation in 2010.
The place hasn’t been the same since.
Built in the early 1990’s by Tim McNulty, Blue Heron had developed a solid niche audience among golfers in the area. Even so, Joan and Dennis saw more than that when they visited the place for the first time. They saw prospects that they had failed to find in a five year long search for a golf course of their own.
Dennis and Joan had been involved with a golf operation in Courtice, Ontario, with Dennis’ family. Dennis cared for the grounds while Joan tended the accounting. Their work there prompted them to start looking for their own opportunity.
The former teacher and nurse searched as far as Nova Scotia for a golf course that they could buy but failed to make a match until they visited the nine hole course near the Mississippi river in the Lanark Highlands. Their first impression was a life-changing one.
“We thought it was a very picturesque course the first time we played it. We felt right away that there was potential to grow the business,” says Dennis.
The natural beauty is certainly what strikes most visitors immediately at Blue Heron. Carved out of 75 acres of woodland and former Maple Sugar Bush, there is a lot to take in as you gaze across the course. Dense forest, elevated tees, and the occasional intervention of wildlife makes it a serene setting for a round. North Creek also wanders through the property, coming into play on four holes.
Even with so many great assets to start with the Sobils set out to put their own stamp on Blue Heron as soon as they had the keys in hand. Their first project was renovating the cozy clubhouse to reflect a more modern look with better functionality. It was a total makeover that did not go unnoticed.
“We got good feedback from that; we’ve actually had good feedback from everything we’ve done. Our customers have been very good,” comments Dennis. “We hope our hard work will pay off in the long run,” he adds.
The goal for the couple is to keep improving the facility, providing more appeal for customers, both current and potential. Dennis says it is not a formal plan written in stone but as they have the time and money they make upgrades.
In the last couple years many of those transformations have been on the course itself. They have steadily been transitioning the layout to be more user friendly while still presenting a good test of golf, all supported by the best possible turf conditions.
With a par of 33 and many short holes they have also been working to add length to the layout. So far that has been accomplished on a few holes, including a dramatic 2nd tee renovation. The new expansive tee deck, poised high above the fairway, added some 75 yards to the par four and ramped up the flavour of the hole considerably. Similar yardage is also being added to the 5th hole.
“Our plan is to add more tee decks and we do have the possibility of turning a hole into a par five,” says Dennis. They hope that will help ease the perception by some that the course is just a par three course and not worthy of a visit, something that is dispelled quickly when they come to play. Despite not having a wealth of length, there is a wide variety of holes and the small but well conditioned putting surfaces will test your accuracy.
The taming of turf conditions was an immediate focus for Dennis upon arrival. New equipment, an effort to smooth out the green surfaces, and the pruning of trees to allow more sunlight to nourish the grass has been paying off. So much so that the course has been starting to garner a lot of votes in regional reader surveys in the “Most Underrated Course” category. It’s a great testament to their efforts.
Of course building a golf business is not just about the course, as “outsiders” from another part of the province Joan and Dennis have been steadily developing their relationship with the community, golfers and otherwise. The course is a regular host to small charity tournaments, with the ability to host groups of up to 60.
Dennis explains their community bond. “The people around here have been very nice to us. We’ve been welcomed with open arms and we do the same for them here.”
Blue Heron’s men’s and ladies leagues have become quite popular and they have even introduced very informal junior golf clinics to promote the sport in the area. The result is a growing audience for the course, not just from within the local area which is known for cottagers, but with golfers from as far away as Ottawa who now make it a regular stop. Membership levels are increasing with each passing year.
Dennis says that what they hear from golfers about why they keep coming back has been very encouraging. “It’s been two-fold, they say the course conditions are great and that we have a fun, friendly atmosphere. We may not have a full kitchen but we always have fresh sandwiches and great burgers off the barbeque and they’re always served with a smile.”
While many have become familiar with the offerings of Blue Heron and understand what it offers, the Sobils say they pare it down to a few things when extolling the virtues of their course to those who have yet to come play a round.
“It’s really a good golf value. We look at it as full golf experience at the fraction of the time and money. You can play a nice round of golf and then have a snack or beverage and not have it take up your whole day.”
He concludes, “There is something here for everybody, families, couples, juniors, and even better players. We think we have a lot to offer and we’re working hard to make it better every season.”
Dennis & Joan Sobil
1827 Yards, Par 33
Average Hole Lengths
Par 3’s: 150 Yards
Par 4’s: 246 Yards
Blue Heron Golf
3417 McDonalds Corners Rd
Lanark, Ontario, Canada
(Tel): (613) 264-1062