Hitting on all cylinders

Equipment manager Ben Higgins has a drive to build a great life


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
White Mountain CC equipment manager Ben Higgins has showcased the drive to build a life for himself and his family. Photo by Jeff Jackson

The yellow 1968 Mustang convertible belonging to Ben Higgins symbolizes his drive.

Although he attended college and earned a business degree, Higgins wasn’t happy after spending one year working in the financial sector. What brought satisfaction, though, was using his hands, mind and the opportunity to seriously tinker around. When his parents purchased that Mustang for $1,250 in 1979, it was meant to be for one of their two sons. Fourteen at the time, Higgins took a shine to it even though he was too young to drive it.

“The car had 100,000 miles when we got it, and it had been sitting around a while,” Higgins says. “It needed work, and I couldn’t afford to have it worked on. More out of necessity, I used repair shop manuals to figure things out even though I didn’t have real good tools, and it was challenging doing things like stripping out bolts.”

After pouring himself into the project for 18 months, Higgins inserted the key and drove the car for the first time. It was not the last time, however, that Higgins proved he could be a marvel with equipment — and it is a prime example why he has succeeded as an equipment manager, including nearly two decades at White Mountain Country Club in Pinetop, Ariz.

What Higgins has accomplished comes as no surprise to Steve Chick. Higgins was a ski lift operator in Lake Tahoe when his roommate, Chick, introduced him to the golf industry. “We were living the ski bum life,” says Chick, who was working at Northstar California Golf Course in Truckee, Calif., when he told Higgins the facility needed an equipment manager. “I was there a year and a half and moved on, but I heard Ben turned things around for them. Anything that had a motor, he was into it. He was just really good at it. I’m glad things have worked out for him. He deserves it.”

Higgins, who was raised in Tucson, Ariz., would leave California for Florida seeking a change of scenery and found work at a golf course. He eventually resurfaced out West and landed at the Resort at Squaw Creek in Olympic Valley, Calif. That’s where he became a GCSAA member and soon attended his first GCSAA Conference and Trade Show. He moved on more than 17 years ago to White Mountain CC, and it has proven to be a perfect match, where he works with 30-year association member Douglas D. Dykstra, CGCS, who is on GCSAA’s board of directors.

“The membership is super nice, super involved,” says Higgins, a 19-year association member. “Doug had just come in here too, maybe two months before me. He was here for the long haul. So was I.”

His forward progress was interrupted in 2011. Higgins awakened one night in a sweat, nauseated, and he felt chest pains. He suffered a heart attack and had to have multiple stents inserted. He missed nearly three months of work, but his substitute equipment manager soothed any concerns. Micheal Kay, his assistant at the time and now his son-in-law, stepped in.

“I was ready. I grinded. I made sure I did everything right by him,” says Kay, a six-year GCSAA member and currently equipment manager at 36-hole Torreon Golf Club in Show Low, Ariz., who originally worked for Higgins while in high school. “I had to keep on top of things. He taught me the basics, how to solve problems, think about things. It really rubbed off on me. It was great experience for me and gave me a good idea of what it is all about when you are the head of operations.”

As for Kay’s efforts while Higgins was sidelined, Higgins says, “When you lose someone in that position, it can put the club in dire straits. But he was a blessing for the club.”

Since the heart attack, Higgins has altered his lifestyle. He stopped smoking and improved his diet. Husband to Julie and father of daughters Cheyenne and Ashlee (Kay’s wife), Higgins appreciates all that he has, including the setting at White Mountain CC, where he gets out of the shop to mow the driving range and anything else that is needed.

“It’s nice to have the tools to be able to fix things correctly. Since I’ve been here, we built a new shop, acquired new equipment packages. I also got a lift. Never had a lift before,” he says.

As for his beloved Mustang, it has 250,000 miles, and Higgins put a new convertible top on it. On occasion, he still tinkers with that prized possession. Whether it is that Mustang or a mower, Higgins revels in the challenge and its outcome.

“I enjoy the instant gratification of repairing and see it go back out and work. That does it for me,” he says.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.