Their Brothers' Keepers
The Peyton brothers share blood, a house and a place of employment. Similar intermingling has created more than a few instances of strife among siblings. As the Harvard Business Review recently lamented, “It’s one of life’s sad ironies that folks who love one another can end up having far more acrimonious business relations than people who are unrelated.”
The Peytons swear that won’t be them. “We obviously have our fights here and there, but we work it out, and we work pretty well together,” says Tyler, the eldest.
One question does conjure a whiff of rivalry among them: Who’s the best golfer? “I’ve been playing the longest, and I’m the most consistent, at least. I will say that,” says Tyler, sitting inside the modest member lounge of Baywood Golf Club in Fayetteville. That is about as biting as the brothers get. “Dylan can hit it longer than I can, and Kyle actually just got his first hole-in-one a couple weeks ago here. We haven’t got one yet, so he has that on us.” Of course, it’s in these guys’ best interests to get along.
In February 2012, the Peyton family bought the shuttered 160-acre golf course in suburban Fayetteville and tasked them with turning it around. Tyler, 27, is the general manager and head golf professional; Kyle, 26, is course superintendent, in charge of the grounds; and Dylan, 23, is assistant pro and runs the club grill. Their father, along with a business partner, owns it through Fayetteville-based TKD Golf Management LLC, but once the loan is paid off, he’ll divide the club equally among his sons. “I think it’s pretty much every kid’s dream to have a golf course,” Tyler says. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us.”
To make the most of it, they will have to make nice in a business that has turned nasty. Between 500 and 1,000 of the nation’s roughly 15,000 courses will close by the end of 2020, the Jupiter, Fla.-based National Golf Foundation forecasts. Gene Williford, Baywood’s creator, says it’s difficult to be profitable once there are no surrounding lots to build houses on, and the few Baywood has left belong to him. “When you’re developed out, the golf course has to stand on its own two feet to make money. I think they can if it’s run right and people in there are willing to work and enjoy the business.”
He should know. The owner of Williford’s Seafood Inc., a Fayetteville distributor, his family has had farmland in these parts since the 1700s. In the late 1980s, he decided to develop some of it into a subdivision and 18-hole golf course. The course opened in 1990, and more than 450 homes eventually were built. “It was highly successful,” he says. “We just had tons of people coming in and telling us, ‘Thank you for doing this.’ It’s still the biggest development out on that side of the [Cape Fear] river.” Baywood thrived because there were few places in northern and eastern Cumberland County to play golf. It wasn’t alone in meeting the demand: King’s Grant Golf & Country Club opened the same year in north Fayetteville, and other courses, including Anderson Creek Golf Club in nearby Spring Lake, have opened since.
Louisville, Ky.-based DS Golf Centers LLC bought Baywood in 1998. (Williford won’t disclose the price.) At the time, it owned 10 courses across the Southeast, but that has dwindled to one in its hometown. Golf-course construction tied to housing developments boomed in the ’90s. More than 2,600 courses and 4.4 million players were added during the decade, according to the National Golf Foundation, but that trend reversed itself during the first decade of the 2000s, with about 27 million — 1.7 million fewer people than in the 1990s — playing the sport. Tyler estimates that in its heyday Baywood had between 250 and 300 members. “Without memberships, you’re not going to be able to make it. Especially in the slow months, the membership dues help.”
DS Golf Centers put Baywood on the market for $2.5 million in 2004, and the club shed members and services as it looked for a buyer. Weeds sprang up along the course’s edges; sand lost from bunkers wasn’t replaced. “They just did the minimum,” recalls Peter O’Toole, a 17-year resident and member of Baywood Golf and Community Association. DS closed the course in January 2012, saying it could no longer subsidize losses that had reached upward of $100,000 in recent years. Just 90 members were on the club’s rolls. Homeowners worried that property values would plummet; some considered pooling their money to buy the club. Tyler was working as an assistant pro at a Triangle course when he heard of Baywood’s predicament. He remembered playing the course with friends and mentioned it to his father, who co-owns a real-estate company in Rhode Island. He thought it a bargain, and they got it for $1.3 million — barely half the original asking price.
The Peyton brothers might be young, but they’re not novices. They learned the game from their maternal grandfather, who spent weekends teaching them to read greens and instilled a passion for the game. “I just love golf so much,” Tyler says. “I wasn’t good enough to be a professional golfer, but I wanted to do something involving golf.” He came to North Carolina to attend Campbell University’s PGA Golf Management Program and interned at Cape Fear Country Club in Wilmington and other courses before taking a job with Clayton-based Fred Smith Co., which owns four courses in the Triangle. Kyle studied turf management at University of Rhode Island and worked on the grounds staff at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. — site of several U.S. Open tournaments and the 1999 Ryder Cup. “I learned a lot. I did a few internships and then worked full time. We got to experience everything: maintenance on the machines in the winter, putting, when the grass grows.” Though Dylan didn’t study golf in school, he’s worked on courses since he was 13. The younger brothers didn’t hesitate to migrate south. “We realize we’re really fortunate to be in this position,” Dylan says, “and we’re going to make the most of it.”
Baywood is about 10 miles east of downtown Fayetteville, near the town of Eastover. “People live in that community to be in a little quieter area that’s not as urban,” says Dellmarie Pittman, an agent at Townsend Real Estate Inc. who has listed houses there. “It was designed as a golf community, so that’s of the utmost importance to retain value and appeal.” Despite the troop buildup at Fort Bragg, Fayetteville is still recovering from the housing-market crisis. Foreclosures were up 7.7% through the first four months of 2013 compared with the year before, though they were down 11% from the same period of 2010. Home prices are “maintaining,” Pittman says, and Baywood’s listed properties range from $130,000 to $400,000.
With a still-shaky economy, the Peytons knew they had to increase the value proposition for people to pony up for a discretionary club membership. Establishing a rapport with residents was first on their to-do list, so they rolled out the welcome mat in true North Carolina style with a neighborhood pig pickin’. They gained about 100 members that day and, since reopening in late March 2012, membership has grown to about 200. They’ve diversified by offering social memberships and pool memberships as well as three tiers of golf memberships — the gold level ($1,500 a year for a family) gives added privileges, such as more options for tee times as well as discounted guest fees and merchandise, than bronze ($900) does. Dues can be paid monthly, but members get a 10% discount if they pay in full when they sign up. “What golf needs to provide is an outlet that’s reasonably priced. I think one of the knocks on golf is it’s really expensive, and it takes a long time,” says Robb Wade, director of the PGA Golf Management Program at N.C. State University in Raleigh. “We really need to get past that to making it a family activity.”
The club also allows — and needs — public play and tournaments. Rounds played at Baywood increased to about 18,000 in the year that ended in March; that’s far behind the roughly 32,000 at its pinnacle in the 1990s. But catering to the neighborhood is the top priority, and it’s a symbiotic relationship. O’Toole credits the family with getting the course in its best shape and listening to residents’ concerns about customer service. “They still have a learning curve, but they have done an outstanding job in the short time they’ve owned the club. The family is very personable and willing to listen to you when you have suggestions. They’re very upfront about what their plans are.”
Surveying Baywood from a golf cart, Tyler points out the course’s quirks. The previous owners reversed the front and back nines, leaving trimmed shrubbery that indicates the holes’ original numbers. A putting green is near the clubhouse, along with a shed that houses 60 carts. The backyards of one- and two-story brick houses butt up against the course, and those of members sport green yard signs — a ploy the brothers devised to create subtle peer pressure. Their border collie, Gunner, can be spotted around the greens, though you’re more likely to find their lab mix, Leo, lounging around the clubhouse.
Business is in the brothers’ DNA. Their parents owned a 7-Eleven convenience store when they were growing up, and their mother caters events back home in Newport, R.I. The parents don’t play golf, but that doesn’t squelch their interest in the course. They fill their regular visits with a steady dose of tough love, noticing everything from a blown light bulb to misplaced pillows in the member lounge. “Our dad, he criticizes us the most,” Tyler says. “He sees everything and lets us know. He’s definitely pretty hard on us, but it’s good because we need it.”
They’ve climbed the hump of the first year, turning a small profit, though they won’t reveal revenue. Tyler estimates the brothers work at least 12-hour days during the busy spring and summer, when the course is at its busiest and employs about 15. The family has invested about $100,000 so far in the course and the homey one-story clubhouse, adding new patio furniture, the members’ lounge and a spruced-up menu, but O’Toole hopes there will be money someday for improvements such as a larger clubhouse and formal dining room. “This golf course is really the nucleus of the social life here.”
The brothers, who live in a rented house in the subdivision, are working to make that happen. They plan to schedule more events, further improve the restaurant’s offerings and repair the cart paths. But they also see life expanding beyond Baywood. “My goal at least is to have multiple courses and eventually expand into Fayetteville and maybe Raleigh or toward the beach,” Tyler says. If the layouts were close enough, they could be sister courses. That would help recruit members and reduce costs through scale. “But that’s really long term. Our main focus is here and now and to get this place going.”