Family business: Scott and Missy Howard with their sons, Zak (left) and Jake, at Attica’s 10th Hole and Golf Course in Attica, N.Y. Scott was the superintendent at the nine-hole layout in western New York for 10 years, and the Howards have been the proud owners of the course and its accompanying restaurant since January. Photos courtesy of Scott Howard
Scott Howard met the woman of his dreams, and together, they hatched a plan.
Scott, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 18-year association member, and his wife, Missy, met as students at the State University of New York at Delhi. Scott was studying golf and sports turf management; Missy was learning hotel and restaurant management.
“It was always our dream, I guess, that someday down the line, we would own our own golf course,” Scott says. “I would operate the golf course, and she’d operate the restaurant. That was how our life was going to go.”
That plan, however, was projected well into the future. Scott and Missy figured they’d work for others, raise a family, and then while away their golden years at their idyllic golf course/restaurant. That timeline didn’t hold true.
Last year, when the opportunity arose for the Howards to purchase the course that Scott had previously tended for a decade, they jumped at the chance. In January, they finally closed on that purchase and reopened what is now Attica’s 10th Hole and Golf Course in Attica, N.Y.
“It happened way faster than we thought,” Scott says with a laugh. “We were thinking in retirement we’d buy a golf course. We’re 40 years old, and we own our own golf course. It’s crazy. It is a dream, and it gives us something to work for.”
In the best of times, the prospect of buying a golf course can be uncertain at best, foolhardy at worst. And present times are far from the best. None of which the Howards could have foreseen back when the possibility of buying the nine-hole private course then known as Attica Golf Club first emerged.
Scott Howard’s first superintendent job was at Attica Golf Club, a position he landed in 2006. “I really didn’t know what to expect, but being a nine-hole course intrigued me,” Howard says. “It had a private feel, but it didn’t have the overwhelming largeness of a big, high-end private club.”
As he was settling into his role as superintendent, Howard picked up a few additional duties. Attica GC found itself in need of a bookkeeper, and Howard stepped up. “I told the board I had a little bit of an accounting background and that I would help out until they found somebody,” he recalls. “Seven years later, I was still running the office. I did the register, paid taxes, did the payroll, printed newsletters — I did all the office work as well as being the superintendent.”
About halfway through his 10-year stint, Howard noticed membership had begun to decline. Though the club was still viable, cuts were being made, and when the opportunity to become superintendent at The Fox Valley Club in nearby Lancaster, N.Y., presented itself, Howard moved on, trading nine holes for 18 and taking control of a maintenance budget four times greater than that at Attica GC.
The Howards still lived in Attica, though, and roughly three years into Scott’s four-year tenure at Fox Valley, he heard whispers that Attica GC was about to be sold. That rumored deal ultimately fell through, though the club’s president intimated that the course could be bought if the right buyer and right offer came along.
“So my wife and I started putting our foot to the pedal to figure out what we could do,” Howard says.
The Howards, longtime residents of Attica and parents to Zak (13) and Jake (9), put together a business plan and, eventually, secured funding. They made their official offer to buy the course in May 2019, and the following month, the course members voted to sell — in principle. The course continued to take offers through July, and then in September 2019, voted to accept the Howards’ offer.
“We weren’t going to buy just any golf course,” Howard says. “This is our hometown. I worked here 10 years. We know people in town. I think that helped, and from what everybody says, the whole thing was kind of fast-tracked. I can honestly say, I don’t think they would have sold to just anybody. But with me being local ... I think they wanted to see it remain a golf course. Some of the other inquiries might not have had a long-term plan for it staying a golf course.”
The deal closed in January. The Howards began working toward opening day, despite what Scott describes as “one of the wettest spring seasons in western New York history.” He had to build a makeshift cart path to make the course accessible.
The ninth hole at Attica’s 10th Hole and Golf Course. Previously known as Attica Golf Club, the course originally opened in 1932, its nine holes carved from former farmland.
There was still snow on the ground on March 7 when the restaurant half of the Howards’ golf course-restaurant dream held its soft opening, a week before the March 14 grand opening.
“It was well attended,” Howard says. “That night, we got a phone call, during our dinner service, that schools were closing and that all restaurants had to go to takeout only. That burst our bubble. That week, we tried to do the to-gos, but it’s a clubhouse restaurant. It’s not conducive to curbside or takeout, so we had to close down the restaurant and had to wait on the game of golf — for Mother Nature to say we’re ready to open for golf.”
The coronavirus pandemic has done a number on most golf courses. Those in New York have had to deal with unusual uncertainty, as governmental decrees come and go with varying degrees of clarity.
“The state has changed the rules on golf courses four times now,” Howard says. “It’s been a whirlwind here in New York. Everybody interprets the rules differently. We watch our government briefing at 11:30 daily to see if something changes.”
Howard sometimes doesn’t know how to respond when a caller asks whether Attica is open for play.
“We have been busy, gotten a lot of inquiries,” Howard says. “People are looking to get out and play. People need a release. They need to be allowed to get out and play golf. I feel we would be very busy if we’re allowed to open with carts.”
Howard describes his course as “very hilly — the only flat hole is the first hole,” and he estimates 80% of his golfers would use a cart. Attica had been sending out golfers one per cart before Howard came to understand that golfers were to be limited to walking only.
The Howards face other challenges. The course, which opened in 1932, had been private, but the Howards have opened it to the public. Because it had been known for so long as a members-only venue — if it was known at all — getting the word out has been a task.
“One of the battles, since we were private so long ... we’re at the end of a dead-end street in the village,” he says. “People who live in town don’t even know we’re here. It’s a challenge here locally. We have to rely on social media to get the word out. But people that have heard ... everybody is happy we opened. The response locally was amazing. We have a group of friends who aren’t golfers, people who didn’t patronize here or were members up here, and they see the benefits of having another place in town to go.”
One advantage to the situation, Howard says, is that he’s had time to do some work around the course. He happily took to social media recently to show off some bunker upgrades, and says he feels fortunate he didn’t buy a golf course that went on the block because of neglect.
“The superintendent who took over for me when I left here did a fantastic job with what they gave him to work with,” Howard says. “There are some things that could be done, but it’s not so much the golf course or the restaurant end of it need to be improved. It’s just the fact it’s been a private club for so long and a lot of people haven’t been out here. The first question we ask everyone out here is, ‘Have you ever played here before?’ Now, 100% of the time, the answer is, ‘Nope, never been here.’
“It’s very exciting, but it’s also very nerve-wracking,” Howard says. “We’re banking everything on making it go as a business. We’re going from having two jobs with somebody paying us to, ‘We have to do this or ... what? What is the outcome if we don’t make it?’ But honestly, we’re two very positive people. What happens if we don’t make it hasn’t crossed our minds.
“You’d think, with everything going on, maybe we’d feel a little buyer’s remorse. But we know we’ll get through it. The number of phone calls we’ve taken, the people we’ve had to turn away — these are people who want to come spend money here. We know we’ll do well. We just have to get through this time.”
Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s managing editor.