Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

'Listening to Customers' is Cornerstone of Valley Turf
by Rod Kackley

To spend an hour with Ron Brink is to spend an hour with a man who loves golf and loves the company of those who build and maintain golf courses.

"The people who want to design and build golf courses start out with my company, Valley Turf, as potential customers, often develop into clients, and always become our friends," Brink said in a conversation with Michigan Golfer. "What I love to do more than anything is to meet someone with a dream, help them turn that dream into a mission, and then help them take it from the architect to the builder and then right to the finish."

As President and owner of Valley Turf since 1991, Brink has watched his business grow by 150%. And Valley Turf has grown from one location in Grandville to three locations now, with offices also in Traverse City/Kalkaska and Detroit. Brink said, "We cover the entire state of Michigan with irrigation service out of all three offices, and maintenance equipment for three-fourths of the state from here in Grandville and Traverse City. It's growing almost faster than we can handle."

Brink and his staff offer golf course investors, developers and superintendents both irrigation systems and the heavy turfgrass equipment they need to keep their courses green, well-manicured and attractive to golfers. Valley Turf's main turf maintenance equipment lines are Jacobsen and Ransomes. Textron and Rainbird are the top irrigation equipment vendors the firm offers to clients. "That's only the beginning of what we do, though." Brink explained. "When we see a new need, we go out and find a vendor or a supplier who can fill that need."

The irrigation systems that Brink's staff installs are more than just "pipe and sprinkler heads." Instead, they are actually complete "fertigation systems," offering both irrigation and fertilization in a combination that is efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sensitive. It's a high-technology water and fertilizer management system that is completely computer-driven and controlled. With a touch of a couple of keys, thanks to the Rainbird computer software that Valley Turf includes with Rainbird irrigation systems, course superintendents and their crews can change water flow to each individual sprinkler head in the system. If a low spot on the course needs more water, the crews can account for that.

"The whole secret to this," Brink explained, "is making the course green with as small a 'water window' as possible. The Rainbird system can even include a weather station system that will allow you to change water and fertilizer application by detecting and monitoring rainfall, temperature and humidity." That's all very important to Brink. "I really believe that the game of golf is all about enjoying and appreciating God's creation. It is the only connection many people have with nature. It's important to me that we help preserve it and demonstrate that you can build and maintain a golf course without compromising nature."

Valley Turf offers just about everything the golf course developer needs, including financing. "That's what really sets us apart," Brink said. "Through Textron Financial, we can offer very attractive packages, with competitive rates and payment plans that are really tailored to what our customers need. And, most local bankers just don't understand the business of golf the way we do."

Could it be possible that one man can do all of this alone? Not a chance. Brink wouldn't let the interview end without heaping praise on everyone who works with him at Valley Turf. He said, "I work long, hard hours, sure I do. But, you know it's really my staff, the people out there on the front lines that do the real work and make it happen." Each member of the staff carries a phone at all times, so they are always available for customers who have problems. If there is a problem with the computer-controlled irrigation and fertilization equipment, it can usually be diagnosed and corrected from Valley Turf's Grandville office. If not, Rainbird has computer back-up staff ready to assist.

Just because the sale is closed, doesn't mean Brink and his staff forget about their "friends," whose job it is to maintain the courses. The staff will conduct hundreds of hours of training seminars throughout the winter. "We keep in close touch with all of them. Just the other day, I had a long meeting with eight golf course superintendents, asking them questions, listening to their problems, offering solutions," Brink said. And, that really is the cornerstone of his attitude toward his customers and the reason so many become his friends. Brink added, "My job is all about making their jobs easier. If my staff and I can do that, well, we're going to have friends for life."

It doesn't take long to realize that Valley Turf is Brink's avocation as well as his vocation. However, to really get him going, ask if he also enjoys the game of golf. Brink will lean back in his chair, clasp his hands behind his head, and explain, "You know why I love dealing with people who golf?" he asked rhetorically. Leaning forward, he explained, "I love it because I'm dealing with the positive side of life."

And, that includes Brink's family. He said, "My 17-year-old son and I, well, we pretty much grew up together on a golf course. And some of the best times I have in life are spent with my wife on a golf course. That's really quality time. It's a time when you are alone together, a time when you can talk about things you never have time to talk about normally, and you can talk about them in a way you can't anywhere else. There is nothing like being on a golf course, in the middle of God's creation, with your family. Nothing like it at all."

It's been a meteoric rise for Ron Brink and Valley Turf. Where does the company he loves go from here? With a chuckle he said, "I don't know. I really don't. But I can tell you this: we aren't done growing yet."

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