Hearts were betrayed, jobs were lost and countless golfers were abandoned last fall when the plug was pulled on Tam O’Shanter Golf Course in Canton.
But where many people saw despair, Steve DiPietro saw opportunity. And when opportunity knocked, DiPietro threw the door open and welcomed it like a long-lost relative.
The somewhat shameless closing of Tam O’Shanter was the opportunity. It was created when Stark Parks purchased Tammy’s 300-plus acres and obliterated the best public golf facility in Stark County, tossing approximately 40,000 rounds of golf up for consumption.
“Stark Parks was the first one on my Christmas card list,” said DiPietro, who rarely sees an opportunity he doesn’t at least consider.
An astute Canton businessman whose family holdings include Skyland Pines Golf Course, popular Papa Bear’s Restaurant, eight Pizza Oven restaurants, a railroad, a sand and gravel company, more than 350 acres of the old Republic Steel plant in Massillon and another dozen or so other businesses, DiPietro saw the fall of Tammy as a signal to move ahead.
The sale and closing of Tammy for commercial and recreational development was viewed as near-criminal by some, but very logical by others.
The course, which just completed its 90th year of operation, was arguably the finest and most versatile facility in Stark County and beyond. The combination of its well-conditioned 36 holes, huge driving range, three practice putting greens and bunkers, locker rooms, large pavilion, two outdoor patios and large lounge with fireplace was unparalleled.
But the sellers would have lost millions if they had sold it as a golf course.
Paperwork sealing the Prestwick deal was expected to be completed this week, DiPietro said.
DiPietro, who turns 58 next month, saw the marriage of Prestwick and Skyland Pines as a natural.
But, the question begs to be asked: at a time when golf courses are disappearing fast, why head in the opposite direction and assume the daunting task of restoring a slowly deteriorating private club?
“With the market consolidating itself and courses disappearing, there still is a fair amount of people who want to play golf,” said DiPietro. “Sure, it will be a lot of hard work, but I just looked at it as a good time to start consolidating our (golf) market and keep greater control over prices on the purchasing side. The casual golfer doesn’t care if I can buy chemicals at an eight percent discount as opposed to a three percent discount. But, we do. It’s Coke vs. Pepsi. It’s all about buying power.”
DiPietro, the fourth of six children, is no stranger to hard work. He said 7-day work weeks, divided between the family businesses with his brother David DiPietro, are not uncommon. His first job was putting together take-out boxes at his father’s first pizza shop on West Tuscarawas in Canton. He was 5-years-old.
“If we got enough boxes put together we got 25 cents that we could spend on candy at Heggy’s across the street,” he said.
Here’s a quick learn on what has happened since the fall of Tammy and what will happen with the rise of Skyland Pines and Prestwick:
DiPietro plans on returning Prestwick into an exclusively private club within two years, eventually eliminating the ‘semi-private’ status begun by Rainieri.
“We have met with a dozen or so members and they are super people, dedicated to the club,” he said. “There is a great housing community there. The housing stock is unbelievable. Those people have a lot invested in Prestwick and we look at them as partners. We will be there to serve them. We’re just going to take care of their backyards.”
Toptracer Golf will arrive at Prestwick as early as this fall. Tracer Golf is the smaller version of TopGolf, a facility that combines technology and entertainment for golfers and non-golfers. Imagine a driving range attached to a Winking Lizard and you’ll get the idea.
“We visited a Toptracer headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin and the way it sets up to the building (clubhouse) it is made to order.”
His first objective at Prestwick is to the golf course.
“The turf is in pretty good shape. It just needs some attention, like repairing the traps and installing good sand. Not all sands are created equal. We’ve already made some improvements inside. Things there suffered from, let’s say, ‘deferred maintenance’.”
DiPietro acknowledged that he is looking into adding another course to his holdings and indicated it could happen soon. But, he declined to disclose which course or where it is located.
“You know what they say. Loose lips sink ships. But, you’ll be the first to hear when it happens.”
Teri Piekarski has been hired as Prestwick’s general manager. Piekarski held the same position at Shady Hollow Country Club in Massillon for 14 years.
Korey Waseman, a Penn State graduate who has been credited with the improved playing conditions at Skyland, will oversee both Skyland and Prestwick as superintendent. (Skyland Pines recently earned national honors as one of the most improved courses in 2018 by Golf Advisor.)
Trevor Stan, a graduate of GlenOak and Walsh University, will add Director of Golf duties at Prestwick while continuing as GM at Skyland Pines.
“We have good people, key managers, in place. We don’t do a lot of micro-managing. We hire the right people, people who we think will fit with what we want to do, and let them do their jobs.”
Does the purchase of Prestwick mean DiPietro will be hiring people — both full-time and seasonal — at both facilities?
“Yes, we will be hiring people. We will be able to shift people, as well as equipment like carts and mowers, between the two courses.”
Since regaining ownership of Skyland Pines a little more than two years ago, DiPietro said he poured $310,000 in improvements with more to come.
“You get every customer free one time. After that, you have to earn them. If you give them a good experience, good value, they will comeback. If you didn’t, it’s a one-time offer.”
Perhaps no course in the area benefited more from the sale of Tam O’Shanter than Skyland Pines. The number of leagues scheduled to play at Skyland in 2019 doubled from 2018 and Stan said only early-morning and early-afternoon openings remain.
“We’re at the maximum for late afternoons,” said Stan, a GlenOak and Walsh University graduate who has been at Skyland for a little more than a year.
In anticipation of going full-private, Stan said Prestwick has stopped accepting league applications for 2019.
High-volume outings will be welcomed. Those are opportunities DiPietro will not miss.
POSTSCRIPT ON THE TAMMY CLOSING: Tam O’Shanter’s Eric Snodgrass and Patty Gaston have been hired at Raintree Golf Club, which will be operated by Billy Casper Golf for the City of Green. Snodgrass, the former golf operations director and superintendent, has been named Raintree’s general manager and Gaston, the former director of golf services at Tammy, has been named Raintree’s golf operations manager.