Getting out of the fast lane

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Steve Harris, 62, recently was hired as the head professional at Cape Girardeau Country Club. (Kit Doyle)

The Cape Girardeau Country Club recently filled the spot of head professional.

It appears their man, Steve Harris, can also drive a pretty mean cart, too.

Harris, 62, who most recently served as the director of instruction at the Central States Golf Academy in Plymouth, Ind., joined the club's staff on Feb. 19.

Harris, a former race-car driver, and his wife, Susan, originally from Sikeston, Mo., have children and grandchildren in the area and were looking to settle in Southeast Missouri.

"It's a real harmonious setting for the both of us," Harris said.

Steve Harris, left, and his father, Ernie, looked over Steve's race car in this photo from 1971. Steve Harris followed in his father's footsteps as a race-car driver, competing on the Formula 2 circuit before giving up the sport at the age of 27. (Submitted photo)

Harris said he's long been familiar with Cape Girardeau, and he originally explored the job when longtime club professional Jack Connell left for Dalhousie Golf Club in 2000.

"I love the private golf club -- the relationship building and longevity as far as dealing with people," Harris said. "It's pure enjoyment for me to be involved with the private club."

Harris also has an extensive business background, which is a good fit for the current needs of Cape Girardeau Country Club, which eliminated the job of general manager after Dave Kaesheimer left in December.

"We're really pleased, and Steve is such a family-oriented golfer with good credentials," club president Dave Dormeyer said.

The club is taking a team-management approach to account for the elimination of general manager. Harris, Brad Tidwell (greens superintendent), Cathy Golden (front office supervisor), Amy Heberlie (events coordinator) and Charlie White (chef) have expanded their roles and are managing in a ring format, rather than a hierarchy. The nine-member board also plays an important role in overseeing the operation of the course.

Steve Harris is the new club pro at the Cape Girardeau Country Club. (Kit Doyle)

Second career

Harris refers to golf as his second career.

He previously was involved in sales and owned a plant that manufactured dinette furniture in the early 1980s.

Business is his passion, as was racing in his earlier years.

Harris' father, Ernie, raced cars at a high level of competition -- he competed at the 24 Hours of Sebring -- and the son inherited the need for speed.

He raced boats from about age 10 to 16, running at speeds as high as 75 mph.

At that time, golf took the backseat.

"It was hard to be a golfer and do the racing at the same time, because both were in the summer," he said.

When his father stopped racing, Harris took over his father's Formula 2 car.

"The car I originally started in was previously owned by Dickie Smothers of the Smothers Brothers," Harris said.

The road racing was a family event, as he traveled to road races around the Midwest with his father serving as mechanic.

"The last car I drove ran about 175, 180 [mph]," said Harris, who said the league was one step below Indy car and Formula 1.

The racing, which started at age 21, ended at 27 when he realized it wasn't going to provide a living.

A unique road

But Harris has always had a hand in business, which attracted him to the business side of golf.

"The path through my golf career is substantially different than most people I've come across," he said. "I enjoy the game, and I love to teach the game, but I've come into it from a business perspective."

Most of his golf career has been involved with turnarounds for struggling businesses.

Harris belonged to a private club for 20 years in Indiana, and he took up the golf profession with the encouragement of the club's professional, Bill Kratzert Jr.

"He told me there was a need for businessmen in the golf business," Harris said. "The more I thought about what he said, the more it made sense to me.

"I had 20-something years of business experience with me and I brought it over to the golf business."

With Kratzert's help, Harris started on the ground floor in 1986, loading bags and washing carts as an assistant at Bellerive Country Club in the upscale St. Louis suburb of Ladue. He later took an assistant job at Sunset Hills Country Club before he landed his first head pro job at The Legends in Eureka, Mo.

His business background came to the forefront when he accepted a job with the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama in 1996. As the director of golf of the Highland Oaks facility on the southern end of the trail in Dothen, Ala., Harris was fully immersed in the business side of golf.

He spent four years at the Robert Trent Jones facility, righting a facility that hadn't been performing as well as other courses on the trail.

He later hooked up with Red Stone Golf Management, which led to a job as regional director of Bear Trace, a similar endeavor that was struggling in Tennessee.

"They had been open about a year," Harris said. "They were looking for someone with multi-site experience. There are not many people with that kind of experience. That got us back in this area."

Harris called the five-course project "doomed from the start" and ultimately recommended the five courses be returned to the state of Tennessee, which had constructed the courses. The recommendation was followed.

He later did independent consulting work for parties buying golf courses, utilizing his expertise in turnaround situations.

His personal trail led back to Indiana, then to Cape, where he's looking to establish roots.

"I told them this is my last job," Harris said. "I want to retire here."

He's yet to see the course in all its spring beauty, but he has seen enough, with the Mississippi serving as a serene backdrop to the winding, tree-lined fairways.

"This is probably one of the best kept secrets in Missouri, as far as steady beauty," Harris said.

"What better view can you have than the view off our front porch."

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