Keri Arnold remembers high school matches against Ken Miller while Arnold attended Grace Davis and Miller played for Beyer.
Both chose golf for a career and, years later, they’ve remained true to serving the game and its practitioners in the area. And their paths have crossed one more time.
Arnold, 48, will assume the day-to-day operation of McHenry Golf Center, the facility begun by Miller a decade ago, and reopen it March 1 under a new title – NorCal Performance Golf.
For a top-notch practice site closed since Jan. 10, this counts as good news for all local golfers.
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“We want it to be as good as it can possibly be,” Arnold said Monday. “We’re trying to keep golf alive in the Central Valley.”
Arnold, who played golf for the University of Hawaii and spent one year (1992) on the LPGA Tour, breathes the game. She has spent the last three years as an assistant pro at Oakdale Country Club and worked as a head pro at the Mojave Resort in Laughlin, Nev. (2000-2006) and as general manager at El Rio CC in Mohave Valley, Ariz. (2006-10).
She’ll continue part time at Oakdale while putting her imprint on the Modesto practice site. As the new title implies, Arnold hopes to broaden the appeal of the former McHenry Golf Center.
To that end, John Ebster – a physical therapist and husband of Arnold’s sister, Dana – will plan golf exercise and strength training programs for customers. Dana, a teaching pro at McHenry, will remain at the facility with Arnold.
1992 The year Keri Arnold played on the LPGA Tour
“We want to allow people to play golf longer in their lives,” Arnold said. “Rather than just build a perfect swing, we’ll try to tailor an exercise and instruction program to fit each person.”
Arnold remembers how her father, Ken, a retired local educator, introduced the game to her and Dana with visits to Carver 3-Par. The sisters went on to become junior golf stars – both won the Modesto City – and Dana played at USC.
“Dad worked all day, and then he took us to the range at Carver,” Keri recalled. “It wasn’t the golf. It was being with Dad and having potato chips afterward. We want to pass that on to other kids.”
Arnold inherits a facility stung by a general downturn in golf participation and the harsh reality of El Niño.
Miller, 51, was forced to close McHenry during the very wet January. He reported zero business during a three-day period and, on several occasions, had to pull the ball-collecting machine from the mud.
McHenry, featuring a clubhouse and ample practice area with chipping and putting greens, flourished until the 2008 recession. Business dropped 32 percent the following year, Miller reported, and never totally recovered. The wet winter was the last straw.
“I got tired of losing money. If it was a golf course, we would have closed five years ago,” Miller said. “I put my heart and soul into this place. Customers would ask me, ‘Do you have a life?’ ”
We want it to be as good as it can possibly be. We’re trying to keep golf alive in the Central Valley.
Keri Arnold, on taking over the new NorCal Performance Golf, formerly McHenry Golf Center
That said, Miller is confident Arnold and her staff will bring fresh energy to the facility.
“I’ve known the Arnolds my whole life,” he said. “They’re not going to have the experience I had. It is perfect for a family to run it. They won’t have the expenses I had. I’m sure they’ll do a great job and have a great following.”
Miller served as the head pro at Modesto Tees and Greens, and Claratina, practice centers that eventually closed. He has absorbed the harsh side of the golf business in recent years, yet he’ll never walk away from the game. He remains, along with Dana Ebster, one of the leaders of the Junior Golf Association of Northern California.
For now, Arnold is on the site that hasn’t seen a customer in about six weeks. There’s work to be done.
“There’s been a huge amount of community support for us,” she said. “It’s going from one hard-working family to another. I think that’s why Ken reached out to us.”
The Shag Bag – The local high school boys golf season kicks into gear with two major events – the inaugural Gregori tournament Monday at Spring Creek Golf & Country Club and, on March 7, the fourth Del Rio CC Invitational Preview staged by Central Catholic. Thirteen teams – featuring Archbishop Mitty, Clovis North, Granite Bay, Lodi, Lincoln and Jesuit – are joined by Stanislaus District squads at the Gregori event. Seventeen teams are scheduled to take part in the Preview at Del Rio. … Belated congratulations to Johansen High senior Daniel Pena, who signed to attend Pacific last November. He’ll be coached by former Cal State Stanislaus coach John Cook. Pena was the medalist at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters as a sophomore in 2014. … The First Tee of Central Valley will hold its annual Open House on March 5, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Modesto Municipal. Registration for its spring instruction session also has begun. The First Tee also is opening a new satellite venue at River Oaks in Ceres. Visit thefirstteecentralvalley.org.
Holes in one – Barney Barker, Turlock, 183-yard 15th at Turlock CC, 5-hybrid. … Ray Rohde, Turlock, 129-yard seventh at Turlock, 5-iron. ... Tony Iafrate, Salida, 102-yard sixth at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, gap wedge. … Michael Doll, Salida, 148-yard second at Jack Tone, 4-iron.