The Landings Golf Course & Teaching Centre

Beyond Expectations

The Landings Golf & Teaching Centre, Kingston, Ontario

A decade ago, an important addition came to be on the Kingston, Ontario golf scene.  With the sport growing in popularity, and a lack of facilities committed to growing the sport, The Landings Golf Course and Teaching Centre opened. As a result, The Landings addressed many of the needs of the local golf community, and ten years later, has become a staple in the Limestone City golf scene.

While early on The Landings ownership had a pretty firm idea about what they intended to create with their facility, in time additional opportunities and avenues arose that shaped their venture into a success.

At the helm of operations at The Landings is General Manager Chris Barber.  Well known as a top amateur player who has become one of the best players in the CPGA Ottawa Zone since turning professional, Barber says The Landings has a history like many other courses – from humble beginnings, a lot of hard work and some good fortune has brought them to where they are today.

The seeds for the facility, which is located on leased grounds at Kingston’s Norman Rogers Airport, started back in the late 1990’s.  At that time, the Barber family owned and operated Matchpoint Racquets & Fitness Club, also on-site at the airport.  “I guess the family has had a long connection with recreation and golf, so we’ve always had the discussion, the desire to build a golf course going pretty far back,” says Barber on an early Spring day from the comforts of the club’s pro shop.

Chris says the course has benefited from a terrific ownership group, comprised of Jim Barber, whose business knowledge and vision led to the inception of the course, and world renowned cardiologist Jack Parker, who, were it not for his belief and contribution to that vision, The Landings would not be as successful as it is today.  “The Landings would not have progressed like it has without their expertise, or that of our early investors.  We have had some great people involved over the years.”

Jim Barber (Chris’s father) got to the real work on the facility in the late 1990’s, just as Chris was finishing up university. The younger Barber recalls those early days with both fondness and amazement about how far the executive length course, practice facility, and clubhouse have come.  “It was just a farmer’s field, vacant land on the airport property.  I can recall walking from the airport entrance all the way to Bayridge Drive (one of the property boundaries) in grass that was above my head.”

In formulating their business plan, far before a shovel even touched the earth, the family had some real decisions to make.  With only 85 acres available, that space would restrict what they could build.  Chris explains, “That was certainly the discussion, we knew we had half the property to build a full-length eighteen hole course, so the choice was either a full-length nine hole course, or an executive length eighteen.  In the end it was purely a business decision.  We knew that an executive length course would allow people to play in three hours, get eighteen holes in and we could serve more customers.  It turned out wonderfully…”

That decided, they knew early on that this would not be a typical short course like many you find across North America – the ones so basic that their only feature in eighteen simple greens and tees, with the grass all cut to the same height.

“The idea was that it was still going to be a golf course, not the old par three,” says Chris in reference to the Kingston Par Three golf course that was closing down business operations, just as they were opening.  “That was what we were demanding of the course builder – we wanted interesting green sites; we wanted some shot value out there…so we came up with a routing that was nine par threes and nine par fours.”

Barber adds that one of the bonuses of the routing is that not only do the ninth and eighteenth holes return to the clubhouse, the 15th hole does as well.  As a result, if a member comes out and things are quiet they can slip out for three (holes16, 17, 18) or six (holes 9-15) holes if they have limited time on their hands.  In total The Landings came out to be a 4,185 yard course that plays to a par of 63.  Fools would scoff at the challenge the course provides based on those numbers alone.

“Oh yeah, we hear it.  People see the yardage and think it will be a “great place to work on my short game” but I can tell you I hit nine drivers on this course; on a lot of full length courses I might only hit three or four,” says Barber, a four-time CPGA Ottawa Zone Champion who knows about playing the game at a high-level.  Two-time defending Kingston City-Champion, Sean Lackey, also happens to play out of The Landings – another testament to its quality.  “There are no goofy holes and you will get to hit just about every club in your bag.  You can also play it a lot of different ways if you are trying to develop different parts of your game.”

Very often golfers who have not visited The Landings have misunderstandings about the course.  Even though it is popular with junior and senior golfers alike – extending the golf career of many, it need not be dismissed as something less than it really is.  From the beginning the management focussed on the keys of enjoyment for all golfers – quality conditions.  Chris clarifies, “When we built the course, regardless of the layout, it was going to be in good shape.  The greens were professionally built to USGA specs and we cut it properly with a staff lead by a terrific superintendent.  It became a golf course like any well-conditioned course, just in a smaller package.”

Which brings us to another topic.  Just as The Landings chose right from the start to have a qualified Superintendent – they have paid just as much attention to staff guiding the pro shop, practice facility, and programming.  “It was a conscience decision to have professional staff in key positions and there is no better place to start than the pro shop, where customers get their first contact.  We want to have people there who are golf career invested with a commitment to doing the best job possible,” says the affable GM.

Knowing they needed strong leadership from the golf side of the business, Jim Barber attracted CPGA Professional Dale Pedersen to The Landings in 2001, after they had played together in a pro-am; a hiring that Chris says was a huge boost for the facility.  Pedersen, a former National Club Professional Champion and the Past President of the CPGA Ottawa Zone, immediately created programs to fill the golf course and driving range.  “That impact he made immediately is felt right to this day.  We constantly look around and see the improvements we’ve made because of him.  They are a testament to his vision.”

The commitment to having CPGA Professionals has resulted in a tremendous level of programming and services.  In fact, The Landings has become the premium teaching facility in the area.  Their extensive line-up of clinics, camps, and lessons attract a huge clientele who make use of a range, which features a 25,000 square foot grass tee deck and short game area.  “For many places, teaching revenue is not a significant line item on their income statement.   For us it is a big part of what we do,” Chris explains.  “The course is the backbone of the operation, but our business it about more than that.  It means we don’t just depend on the play out on the course,” he notes, as he also points out their popular Men’s and Women’s Nights that attract over 300 players each week.

As they look ahead to another decade, in the face of everyday challenges, Chris says they will stay the course at The Landings.  “There is room in every business to grow. Our green fees are already amongst the lowest in the area, but we will always be trying to add value to help attract people. We have golf pros in the shop, the best junior development program around, great leagues, and new teaching programs; value-add is ultimately how we compete.”

In conclusion, Chris says their focus as they move ahead is on the overall facility, with not one thing being more valuable than the other.  “We want to continue to provide a great product on the course, programming that is above and beyond what anyone else is doing,  and the finest clinics, instruction, programs for juniors, and men’s and women’s nights.  We bundle that with great service.  That is the business model we have taken into everything, and so far it’s worked.  We’re pretty proud of that.”

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