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Golf: LAGC course manager finalists have solid golf and business experiences

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By Mike Cote

A pair of out-of-towners and a course veteran are in the running for the top job at Los Alamos Golf Course.

Michael Phillips, assistant course professional at LAGC is one of the three finalists for the LAGC manager’s job, along with Jeff Kent from nearby Towa Golf Course and Steve Wickliffe from far away Old Works Golf Course in Anaconda, Mont.

The new manager, which will take over for retired LAGC manager Dennis McCloskey, could be announced sometime this month.

LAGC’s manager’s post became available after McCloskey officially stepped down in July. McCloskey, the most celebrated professional golfer that Los Alamos has ever produced, held the top job at the golf course for 32 years.

Wickliffe, who has managed the 21-hole Old Works Golf Course since its opening in 1997, said at a meet-and-greet session at LAGC Aug. 14 that he’s ready to try something a little different.

“I had the opportunity to see it grow and prosper,” Wickliffe said of the Montana golf course, which was designed by golfing great Jack Nicklaus. “It’s time for a new challenge, a new opportunity...I like north-central New Mexico. I like the mountains, I like the recreational opportunities and I like the challenge of what’s going to happen at (LAGC) over the next several years.”

Following this golfing season, LAGC’s facilities are scheduled to go through a fairly extensive remodel, particularly the clubhouse/pro shop building. Much of the course administration and the pro shop will be moved either to the old building just a few feet away from the main patio or to a portable building that will be moved on-site.

The candidates all agreed that the remodel was necessary if LAGC wants to be a serious competitor for golfing bucks in the area.

For much of LAGC’s existence, it was about the only golf course north of Santa Fe. In just the last dozen years or so, new facilities in Española, Pojoaque, Taos and Santa Fe have also sprung up, not to mention some high-quality courses in Farmington and in the Albuquerque area.

One of those competing facilities is Towa, which recently opened up an additional nine holes, the Valley course, but shut down another nine-hole set for an upgrade. Eventually, the other nine will be reopened along with the two that are currently up and running.

Kent, who is the head professional and acting director of golf at Towa – located at the new Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino just outside of Pojoaque – finds the prospect of working at a public course appealing, especially after spending several years at a resort destination like Towa.

“It’s a job I could work at for 20-25 years,” Kent said. “I like the public atmosphere. You get to work on personal relationships, which you don’t get to do at a resort.”

Kent’s background includes owning a golfing facility in Umatilla, Ore., which included for two of his three years of ownership the only driving range in the area. He has also worked at public courses in Washington before accepting the job at Towa three years ago.

The course and resort are controlled by the Hilton corporation, which Kent said demands top-notch customer service in all things.

Phillips is the most familiar of the candidates with the situation at LAGC, having been with the course for the past five seasons.

“Part of it is marketing,” Phillips said of the challenges he may face if he’s selected for the managerial post. “Another thing is we’re getting a new building and new amenities. If you’re up here to play golf, you’ll need a place to eat.”

Phillips said he envisions a full-service course to attract business in an increasingly competitive golf market.

Prior to joining the LAGC staff, Phillips spent a decade in accounting and has plenty of business and restaurant experience which he feels will help LAGC while it attempts to upgrade its facilities.

Phillips’ father was a card-carrying member of the PGA and he got to spend a lot of time at golf courses when he was younger. After 10 years in the accounting game, Phillips decided it was time to get back in the fresh air and accepted at post at LAGC.

For Wickliffe, he brings 25 years of professional golf experience to the table and has worked in facilities from Minneapolis, Palm Springs, Calif., Park City, Utah and Sun Valley, Idaho. He was also the director of instruction at Grand Golf in Denver prior to moving to Old Works.