About seven years ago, a friend, Joe McDermott, told Bill Harvey that he should leave Arroyo del Oso Golf Course and work at Ladera.
Harvey said that he had a great gig at ADO, where he had been for 17 years, teaching and making good money with a flexible schedule.
“I can’t,” he told McDermott, a former pro at Albuquerque Country Club. “I’m in a good situation. Ladera is hurting right now.”
But then McDermott provided the perfect words of motivation for Harvey to begin a rebuilding project at Ladera, where the first round of the 81st Albuquerque Men’s City Championship begins Friday.
“Billy, I want to tell you something about the golf business,” McDermott told Harvey. “If you are handed a pile of manure and you grow a flower you’re going to be a hero. If you are handed a valley of flowers and you grow another flower no one is going to notice, Just keep that in mind going forward.”
McDermott made Harvey a believer.
“That was the impetus for me to get out here,” Harvey, Ladera’s director of golf, told the Journal at Ladera on Tuesday. “If I can flip this around a little bit and just keep growing it and keep on implementing ideas that I think will take off and flourish, we can make it work. We had to keep the West Side residents here instead of going across town to play golf. We had to keep them off the casino courses.”
Harvey put together the staff he wanted and tried to build excitement. Still, the first year proved challenging, as a lot of people weren’t too thrilled about some of the changes being implemented.
The next year, 2016, about 34,000 rounds were played at Ladera. But this past year, the staff celebrated 71,000 rounds played at the golf course.
Men’s City adds to that total Friday, followed by second-round play at Arroyo del Oso on Saturday and the final round at Los Altos on Sunday. Former UNM player Ignacio Arcaya, last year’s champion, is not in the field that includes New Mexico State standout Aidan Thomas, La Cueva High junior Jake Yrene and Belen High Class 4A state champ Grady Cox. No Lobos are in the event.
Saturday’s forecast is expected to be cool and rainy; tournament organizers haven’t yet announced a contingency plan if play is washed out.
Back to Ladera: New Mexico golf courses experienced a significant uptick in business due to the coronavirus when many people decided to take up the sport. But Harvey said Ladera was trending up before coronavirus took over in 2020 and then actually helped golf courses flourish in 2021.
Upgrades in the facilities and entertainment (Thirsty Thursdays with a live band on the patio) helped matters, but there was a simple fundamental that led to the Ladera staff wanting to pop champagne bottles after such a huge year.
Harvey stressed the importance of customer service to help make the golfers feel as if Ladera was their home course.
“We had to give them a viable option,” Harvey said. “We had to get the customer service back to be welcoming.”
As a teacher for so long, Harvey knew the importance of practice facilities at a golf course. He jumped on that task working with the City-employed maintenance crew to remove a tree to expand the practice green. The crew also put on a protective range mat.
“We wanted to make sure the putting green was good all year round so people could play,” Harvey said. “It’s paid off. More people come out, sometimes just to practice. They are comfortable. They come into the cafe and sit out in the patio.”
On the patio, Ladera added awnings, provided from capital outlay money, so people will have shade as they eat and listen to live music.
“We have more projects, but that was important to get,” Harvey said. “We wanted to have it be very welcoming. For that we also added two murals painted at the entrance by Chris Lopez, a local art teacher.”
Tony Hidalgo, the longtime pro at ADO, knew it wouldn’t be easy but believed Harvey could do well at Ladera.
“It’s been about 5 or 6 years when they pretty much did the whole course and they turned it from kind of being almost unplayable to now it’s in nice shape,” Hidalgo said. “It’s a good course. It’s 100 percent different from what it was before.”
Hidalgo said Harvey’s experience and his willingness to ask and learn from others assuredly were keys.
“For a long time he worked at the country clubs, municipal golf courses; he kind of has the whole gambit,” Hidalgo said of Harvey. “Where a lot of the other pros are isolated onto one field, one area, he went from a nice country club that he worked in Farmington, he worked in Pennsylvania and worked at Arroyo, which is like a Walmart. It’s just busy all the time. He had a well-rounded experience and I think that’s why he’s done so well out there.”
After such a huge year, it might be expected that Ladera will win some awards from magazines or golf-course ranking groups. If not, it could be regarded as New Mexico’s best-kept golf secret.
David Lovato, Ladera’s head pro, believes the secret’s out. He sort of stumbled upon his first job as a pro at Ladera, he said. Before, he had a government job. He lives near Ladera and became a frequent golfer after receiving such great customer service and friendliness and wanting to be a part of that.
He’s been at Ladera for five years after going through an apprenticeship program. He hopes to stay longer.
“We want to treat you in a way that makes you feel that this is your course,” Lovato said. “We want you here and we want you to have a good time. We want you to play here.”