My association with the resort dates back more than three decades, and today, I am responsible for all golf operations, including play on the Cascades Course and the Old Course, golf instruction and the golf pro shop. Ryder is the only person to have held the position of head golf professional at the Old Course, Lower Cascades and the Cascades, and he has also served as golf school director at the resort. A native of Bath County, Ryder has numerous tournament victories including the Mid-Atlantic PGA Senior/Junior Championship and the Bobby Jones Pro Invitational.
The Ryder Story —
I was born and raised in Hot Springs, about 100 yards from hotel. My parents are from here, too, but they never played golf. The only reason I played golf is because of Mark Fry, our head golf professional. Mark’s been my best friend since we were five years old. In March, the schools let everyone off one day to go skiing. One time, it was 55 degrees that day and Mark asked me to come play golf. I did not play golf, didn’t have clubs. But I didn’t want to go slosh around in the snow on a warm day. This was 1984, the first time I ever put club in hand. I birdied the second hole I played – a par 4, hit driver, 5 iron for my approach, missed the green and chipped in for a birdie three. That was it. And then Mark taught me to play golf. I was really lucky it was so warm that day.
MATT WARD: When you wake up each morning — what’s the passion that drives you each day when carrying out your duties as Director of Golf at one of the most renown resorts in America?
BARRY RYDER: For me it is not about golf. My day starts when I walk down the hall and look into my two girls’ rooms. I think about my family and close friends. That keeps me wanting to go to work every day. I have a good crew; people who are close friends. I have worked with some of these guys for a long time.
MW: The ley golf destinations often tout “the experience” in being there. Define “the experience” in being at The Homestead.
BR: When I first started working here, I picked up extra hours in the transportation department, picking up guests. They would be in awe of the building, how big it is, and then I would tell them, “Wait until you meet the staff.” It’s the people and the service. From the first thing at check-in, the people here make sure guests have a good time and not worry about anything. That is the experience.
MW: You’ve been at The Homestead for a good bit of time — how have the duties and role you serve evolved during that time?
BR: I started in 1984 working for Don Ryder, a cousin of mine. I was 18, just started playing golf one day and he asked me if I wanted a summer job picking balls on the range. I did that for a solid year, and then worked in the cart barn three years.
I started as the assistant golf professional at the Lower Cascades Course in 1998 and after six months was head professional. The next move was to the Cascades Course in 2000, when it was ranked No. 39 in the country. We held the USGA Mid-Amateur Championship in 2000 and the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Championship in 2004. I moved over to the Old Course in 2006 as head instructor and head of the golf schools, and in 2015 became Director of Golf.
MW: You’ve experienced a great deal during the time of your service at The Homestead — what key lesson early on from any mentors formed a lasting impression on how to carry out your approach in the position?
BR: I learned if you just stick with it — it takes time in this business. Took me 14 years to get to where I wanted to be. You have to be patient. And I was lucky to have Don as my boss. He provided great leadership and advice. Don was here 42 years. He always told me, “You work for the people. Take care of the people, and they’ll take care of you.”
MW: So much is written and spoken about the essentiality of customer service. Define the term and the approach taken at The Homestead?
BR: Cool thing about being here is “The power of one.” Get your staff to understand they can make a decision without having to call a manager. That is awesome. That is the biggest tool that has made our staff a lot better. My guys will come up and tell me someone did not have a good experience, so they comped the round. I don’t care about the lost revenue. I tell them, “That’s great. Good job.” When we feel good about what we are doing, the guests can tell. They feel it too. You care.
MW: Golf is going through major challenges — most notably the drop-off of players and closing of courses. If you could advise the key golf organizations on how to turn things around what would you recommend to attract millennials, women and minorities?
BR: I always have been at a resort and when first started, we had golf, tennis, equestrian, shooting, and fishing. Five activities. Now we have 30 activities. We are not getting as many people to come out to play golf for four hours. Now, they play two hours in the evening. So you have to be flexible, provide more for them during that two hours in the evening. Give them a special rate, or something different. For example, our new carts have USB ports, so golfers can plug in their music out there. You have to change with the times.
MW: Clearly, given your long time involvement with the game — what would you advise those contemplating a career in the profession?
BR: You have to be willing to work a while at this. I learned you have to be patient. One of my current assistants came in one day and said he was going to quit, that it would take him a long time to become a head pro – and he is only one summer away from earning his PGA Class A! And now with Omni, there are so many different opportunities. Omni has so many properties and encourages you to move around in the company, and they will have a job for you. I think he is going to hang in there.
MW: If you had a mulligan in your career – what would you have done differently?
BR: The fact that I never took the opportunity to go see other places. Before I had a family, I would have traveled to other places, seen other golf courses — taken the opportunity to play places like Pine Valley, Pebble Beach and all those types of places.
MW: Curious to know — best advice you ever received. What was it and who provided it?
BR: I was 12 and my father brought home 100 white pine tree saplings for me to plant, five feet apart around our four acres. It was a hot day and after about 25 trees, I started sticking them all over the place, and threw some over the fence to get rid of them. My dad came out to see how I am doing and all he said was, “If you don’t focus, you won’t amount to anything.” That always stayed with me. And now when I go to my parents’ house, I see 40-foot white pines and it’s kind of neat to know I planted them.
MW: All golfers have a bucket list of places they’d like to play — what’s at the top of your list and what three people would round out your foursome should you get the opportunity to play that course?
BR: Pine Valley, Pebble Beach and Augusta. I have been to Augusta to watch the show, but playing would be even better. My foursome: Sam Snead — the local hero with the smoothest swing on the planet and a real desire to win. Jack Nicklaus. When I first started playing golf I watched him. Even picked up his slouched putting style and my first real set of golf clubs were Jack Nicklaus MacGregor irons and woods. Phil Mickelson. “Phil the thrill.” Great with people, aggressive style of play and still as strong as the young guys on tour. Could win again at any time. Just needs to get the putting stroke back.
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