Many people who pick up the November issue of “Golf Business Magazine” will be pleasantly surprised to find a large photo of two familiar, friendly faces – Kittie and Linda Fenlason of Sartell.
The Fenlasons, who are sisters-in-law, are the owners-operators of Blackberry Ridge Golf Course in Sartell. They are the subjects of a laudatory magazine article entitled “Owning Up,” which details the successful struggles of the two women to take over operation of the golf course after the untimely deaths of both of their husbands. “Golf Business Magazine” has a worldwide circulation.
The story was written by Kyle Darbyson, a freelance writer from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Darbyson and other magazine staff members visited the Fenlasons several months ago, so the story was not a surprise for Linda and Kitty, although both were pleased and proud of how the story turned out.
Kittie said the magazine people were incredibly kind and thoughtful during their visit.
“It was a very good experience,” she said. “We liked the story very much.”
Kitty and Linda were married to the Fenlason brothers, Veryl and Donnie. They raised their families on the 560-acre Fenlason farm, part of which became the Blackberry Ridge Golf Course after a neighbor suggested the land would be perfect for a course. The brothers took awhile to consider that suggestion and then they went with it full-steam ahead. The course opened in 2001, and as the magazine story tells it, the two brothers had to turn in their farmers’ “coveralls for khakis” when they became full-time golf-course operators.
Sadly, just three years after the course opened, Donnie Fenlason, the husband of Linda, died after a lingering illness. As if that were not tragic enough, only 11 months later, Veryl (Kittie’s husband) succumbed to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Needless to say, the deaths left Kittie and Linda devastated. They considered selling the golf-course property. Neither woman knew very much about business, and they were not even that keen about the game of golf. And yet, a kind of true grit gripped the women, and they decided to try to run the business and lead it out of the debts that had accrued. There was no cash flow to speak of. First, the women finished a process their husbands had begun by refinancing the original loan that had begun to cause the business to slip into a financial danger zone. Linda became chief executive officer and Kittie was named chief financial officer. Their struggle to redeem the business and make a go of it continued. One day, their banker suggested they meet with a business consultant, Bruce Miles of St. Cloud. His specialty is strategic planning and organizational effectiveness. Miles first put the women through a “business boot camp.” Then he convened a kind of impromptu board of directors of savvy business people, put Kittie and Linda in a room with them, and the women peppered them with questions, learning valuable insights and advice from such experts.
Then Miles put the women in touch with a food vendor, who taught the women how to make money through food sales. Linda and Kittie eventually gained confidence in leaps and bounds, and then proceeded to make a series of very positive changes at the golf course.
Through superb bookkeeping, business analysis, frequent meetings with staff and other measures, the Fenlasons became very adept at accounting for the money coming in and the money going out and how to manage it all scrupulously.
The two women took control of the golf course just three years ago. Miles and others are astonished by how well the women have done and how far they have come as successful business owners and managers.
The story writer, Kyle Darbyson ends “Owning Up” with these words:
“It’s been close to three years since Linda and Kittie took over Blackberry Ridge, and the two women couldn’t be happier. ‘Sometimes I can’t believe how far we’ve come,’ says Kittie.
“Meanwhile, Linda reflects from her kitchen, just off the course’s par-3 No. 11 hole. ‘I can see the red-roofed barn that’s been here since the (19)50s. I can smell fresh-cut grass, and I can hear laughter coming from the tee box. It’s a pretty special place to be.’
“Asked what their husbands would say if they were to look down on her and Kittie, Linda doesn’t hesitate. ‘They’d say they were really proud of us.’”