Siblings take charge of family-developed course

Siblings take charge of family-developed course

April 20th, 2011 by David Uchiyama in Sports - Golf

David Drake, left, is president of DASAC, the company that operates the Valleybrook Golf and Country Club, and his sister, Nancy Drake Donelson, is vice president. Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press

David Drake is back managing the land he once cared for by hand.

Drake and his sister, Nancy Drake Donelson, assumed operational and management responsibilities of Valleybrook Golf and Country Club after terminating a lease with Gibby Gilbert II and his son Gibby III late last month.

"It's hard to place blame, because some people get burned out of doing this job seven days a week," Drake said. "This job is like grabbing a tiger by the tail. You have to live this job.

"It was time for us to make a change. You get to a certain point when you know you have to make a change or you'll never get around to it."

After a meandering path of various superintendents, managers and operators, Drake figured it was time for him to take care of the Hixson course that had been in his family - at least a share of it - since it opened in 1962.

"I really didn't think I'd find anybody that was going to do it the way I was going to do it," said Drake, who recalls sprigging the greens. "When I left here in 1979, I had 392 members and there wasn't a bald spot on this property."

The Gilberts had leased Valleybrook from the Drakes - who operate as Dasac, Inc. - since 2002. The elder Gilbert had a long career on the PGA and Champions tours, and the younger Gilbert gave pro tours a whirl a few times before settling into more of a club-pro role due to injuries.

They assumed control of Valleybrook when it was a private course. They opened it for daily-fee play to help fund the club.

"It was bittersweet when they left," said Robert Hart, a member for about five years. "The Gilberts treated me well, and we got to be friends. But business is business and there wasn't much I could do about it.

"The way [Drake] has come in and just spruced up everything, it has got everybody excited once again."

Drake has taken the term spring cleaning to a new level.

"We've filled up three 30-yard dumpsters and thrown away every piece of trash. If it were rusted, broken, bent, non-working or too old, I threw it in a dumpster," said Drake, who has about 20 employees but no golf pro. "We've cleaned, serviced and repaired every piece of equipment on the property. I'm painting everything inside and outside, gone through most of the electrical heating and air, and I had a bulldozer and backhoe out here burning trees, brush and debris that stacked up over 15 years."

Drake would prefer to have it go back to a private course. It has 240 members.

"That's where it really needs to be," he said. "There are a lot of people who put time and energy into this place, and they come first."

While Drake is getting his hands dirty inside the clubhouse and out on the course, his sister has assumed administrative duties of running the club.

"There's a reason we're here, and we've thought about it for a long time," Donelson said. "The timing was important, and we think we've got it right."