Thank You Gary Whistler

Not long ago with little fanfare, Gary Whistler turned over the gavel and leadership of the SunBird Golf Course to the very capable Jack Cooper. It did seem to a lot of us that we should take time to thank Gary and also to reflect on some of the accomplishments that the board made during his six years as a member and five years as president. It is a big responsibility to be at the helm of this ship we call SunBird Golf. Failure would affect 1,600 homeowners in a profoundly negative way. The day-to-day budget is so tight here that there really is no margin for error, so it’s very difficult.
I always admire those among us who are willing to step up and volunteer for the HOA Board or the Golf Board. I would last about two minutes in any of those positions. There are lots and lots of people who live in our lovely community who, like me, are unwilling to serve in these positions. Some are more than willing to come forward and tell the people who do just how things should be run, at length; sometimes without using the filter that we all should have by now. For that reason alone, my hat is off to those folks who step forward.
I’ve witnessed time after moments when Gary would be trying to have a fun day golfing and have some resident approach him to complain, offer suggestions or question him about something. I never saw him give anything except a gracious response. He also never complained about it.
Gary is blessed with many things; a wonderful smile, a warm heart, Midwest values and a great sense of humor, but he also has a keen business sense. His “aw shucks, Midwest farm boy” charm had helped him to build and run his own successful real estate business before coming to SunBird.
It didn’t surprise anyone that he would be very focused and businesslike while he was on the board. I must say that he also never would take credit for something while he was on the board or president. He is the first to say there are seven members on the board, and they all share in the work and the decisions.
It’s been a busy six years working with 16 different board members. I can recall that when he started, things were a bit negative, and slowly that has been replaced by a better sense of unity among the Golf Board, the HOA and the people who live in SunBird. It is the SunBird Golf Community, as someone pointed out at the last HOA meeting.
I’ve heard Gary and others say so many times, “It is our community, our golf course,” and that is true. The new sense of unity took a lot of work on all sides, not just the golf board.
Many of the accomplishments that have taken place in the last six years were transparent to most of us. I thought it might be interesting to recall some of the highlights.
At one point, memberships were redeemable; new ones are no longer redeemable. Those old memberships represent a sizeable liability on the balance sheet. Work was done on educating the owners who have redeemable memberships to the advantages of turning those back over to the golf course. This takes the liability off the books and still allows the members to have all the benefits of their membership. A large number of members have already made the decision to do this, but more are needed. There was also a reworking of the redemption policies, and a redemption list was established so members who do redeem will be paid in an orderly fashion. Membership is also no longer tied to your home ownership.
There has been a lot of chasing new members. Fifteen to 20 new memberships are sold every year. They are critical to the continued success of the Golf Course.
There are roughly 35,000 rounds of golf paid every year, and a $1.00 activity fee is charged for each of those rounds. Bob Gerber and Gary headed up a group of investors who refinanced the old Robson contract. The payoff time period has been greatly reduced as a result.
A past presidents advisory board was established, giving access to that pool of knowledge and experience.
The HOA’s payment of their portion of the property taxes was set to a more reasonable amount through negotiation.
I think the best thing the board did was to hire Marc and stand by him last year while he fought an uphill battle when the weather, delayed maintenance and everything else turned against the course, and the grass suffered. It made you wonder; would locusts be next? When you talk to Marc, you understand that he knows his business. He’s well educated and experienced in all aspects of turf management and was a wonderful addition. He’s hardworking, organized and just brings so much to the course.
When Marc took over, there was a backlog of issues. The course had never really been aerated, the sprinkler system was aging and wearing out at an alarming rate.
Then the drought hit and those issues showed up in a big way. I’m sure It was not an easy move for the board to make the decision to have faith in Marc’s direction to have the large tractors come in and do what needed doing and buy the sand that went along with it, but it was the right one. None of that was in the budget.
Tractors and mowers were replaced as they deteriorated, golf carts were all replaced. New roofs were put on maintenance sheds, a small walk behind aerator was purchased to keep the greens up. There is a phased in approach to getting new sand into all the traps. Marc helped by securing a better price for the sand.
To my mind, one of the biggest changes visually has been the overseeding project. Areas that were not previously overseeded, like the driving range and the common areas off of the holes by the entrance, are now green all the way to the street. This project and others are through the generosity of the homeowners who give to the golf course through donations and tournaments.
The Garden Club has worked jointly with the golf course to maintain and update different pockets of the course.
I’m sure there was a lot more that went on that I’m not aware of. All I know is our golf course is beautiful. In the 15 years we’ve been in SunBird, it has never looked this good or played this well.
I don’t want to neglect to point out that with Gary we also got his wife Alice and Chloe, their adorable Old English Sheep Dog, and I can’t tell you how many times Gary would be at some golf meeting after the course was closed and Alice would be out there pulling weeds, picking up cigarette butts and tees from the greens or spraying weeds. Chloe didn’t do any work; she’s just window dressing.
It’s been a great six years, and we thank Gary so much for all the hard work and the leadership he’s provided. Don’t despair, he’s not totally severing ties. He’s actively going to help pursue new members and get more people to turn over their redeemable memberships.