Esping: Staying the course
With golf courses across the country having been forced to close in recent years due to declining numbers in that sport, those involved with Countryside Golf Course are trying hard to make sure that doesn't happen here. "This is a beautiful course and it's an important part of our community," said Tony Esping, who recently was hired as the general manager at Countryside. "I grew up here and I don't plan on going anywhere, so I decided to do what I can to help out." Esping will continue his regular full-time job as a parole officer in southern Minnesota.
But he has experience in the food and beverage industry and is planning to utilize those skills to help out the golf course. "They have a great and caring staff here," said Esping. "We just need to bring in some new members.
" Charlie Josephson has been working at Countryside for the past five years and manages the kitchen and clubhouse. Kim Gades is in her second year and manages the bar, as well as heading up marketing and social media.
"They both do an outstanding job," Esping said. "Charlie knows all the functions and operations of the place, and Kim is creative as heck." Esping often refers to his new part-time position in football terminology since he was a gridiron star at Huron College.
"It kind of feels like I'm the head coach and Charlie and Kim are my coordinators," he laughed.
"And we have about 10 people on staff here and they are all very good at their jobs."
How it all started
Esping graduated from Minneota in 1989 and then went to Huron College to play football. It was there that he met his wife, Tammy, who was a cheerleader. They were married in 1995 in Minneota. Esping started working as a bouncer at a bar while in Huron, then quickly moved up the ladder to bar manager, and then food and beverage manager.
He then accepted a position as a banquet manager at the Crossroads Hotel and Convention Center, which catered to business groups of 500-600 people. The Espings then decided to move to the Chicago area in 1996 and Tony went back to college at National Lewis College in nearby Evanston, IL, to study Behavioral Science.
In 2003, they returned to Minneota and have been here ever since. Since 2006, Esping has worked for the Minnesota Department of Corrections as a parole officer working with the highest risk offenders. He spends most of his time traveling around the 13-county area he has been assigned to.
Tammy has been working at the Minneota Manor as the Director of Nursing for the past seven months. The Espings have three sons; Nicholas, 21; T.J., 19; and Jackson, 15.
Staying the course
Esping's neighbor, Mike Fier, is also the president of the board at Countryside Golf Club.
"I was talking to Mike about the position and I became interested in helping them," Esping noted.
"So I wrote down some of the ideas I thought might improve both the restaurant and course." The board was impressed with Esping's ideas and hired him. His first day on the job was May 9.
"The first day I had a team meeting with Charlie and Kim," Esping said.
"I need them both to teach me. I couldn't do this without them."
Esping said he listened to the two managers' suggestions and feedback and the three of them are currently gathering information on things that can be done to entice more people to play golf, while also exploring various menu items that might bring in more customers to the restaurant. "The focus is on golf first and the food second," said Esping.
"We need more people to come here and take advantage of this beautiful course. If they come here to golf, many of them will eat here, too.” "We also want the community to know that they don't have to be members to eat here. I think that's a misconception among some people. People can come here and eat and not have to play golf. But we do need to get more members." One of the planned menu changes is a daily lunch special that will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday thru Friday. "We also offer food to go," Esping said. "One of the thing we want to try and do is to have local businesses come in and make a day of playing golf while also having a good meal."
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day. The golf course is open at 8 a.m. until dusk every day. "We're going to try and have a more consistent menu of burgers, wraps, wings and things like that," said Esping. "We also have steak on men's night and maybe some other night specials. We are going to try some different things and see what works best." Getting more memberships is paramount to keeping the course in the black. The board of directors has been offering discounted memberships to new members and those that have not renewed their memberships for a few years. There are also discounted rates for students. "I presented to the board my thoughts on how to get more people to golf here," said Esping. "We're still going to have a ‘Fun Day’ that we always have had, as well as the Wynston Boe Tournament, a 3-Person Best Ball Tournament, and the annual Wrestler's Golf Tournament."
The volleyball team is also planning on a golf tournament this summer, as is the Relay for Life/Kack Attack team. "We want to have a Couples Night and maybe a Friday Night Fun Night," said Esping.
"We want to get the league numbers back up.”
"We're kicking around a lot of ideas. Basically, we want to provide people with a fun golf outing, affordable food and also offer some drink specials.”
"And we have this nice deck here. Not a lot of courses have a deck like this, so we can offer that for people to come out on a nice day to eat and drink outside on the deck." And staying with Esping's football terminology, he said Countryside is not looking to rebuild like some professional football teams do.
"We have a good core group here already," he said. "We have a plan and we're taking things one step at a time.” "We're looking at utilizing everyone's skill sets instead of just throwing them into the fire and wishing them luck. So it's more like we are fine-tuning more than rebuilding."