Tuesday, April 16, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Southern Oaks hires familiar face as Pro

Leader sports editor

Local golfers and potential club members may see a familiar face taking care of things at Southern Oaks Country Club in Jacksonville. Dustin Ralston is Southern Oaks’ new general manager and head golf professional. His first day was April 1. Ralston was previously head golf pro at Greystone Country Club in Cabot. He worked there for 15 years from 1995 to 2010.

He still lives in the Greystone subdivision with his wife Kathy, and children Hogan, 10, and Hannah, 5.

From a family with deep roots in the competitive and business side of the sport, and after nearly three years away from golf altogether, Ralston started missing it at a hall of fame ceremony in which his father, Bob Ralston, was honored.

“My dad was inducted in the PGA south-central section hall of fame,” Ralston said. “Being at that ceremony, seeing all my old buddies, I really started missing it. When I left golf I was happy with what I was moving into, but that event is what really made me want to get back into it.”

As fate would have it, a few months after getting the itch to return to the sport, Ralston heard about the opening at Southern Oaks in March. He sent his resume in on a Tuesday, interviewed on Wednesday and accepted the position on Thursday.

“I have really enjoyed it,” Ralston said of his two weeks at SOCC. “The biggest difference here is that this is a fully private club, whereas at Greystone we were dealing more with the public. We’re a small club right now so as manager I’m the one that takes care of just about everything, but in other ways this is easier than working the public courses.”

While Ralston takes care of “almost” everything, he’s not the course superintendent. That job belongs to Bo Baracus, who in just two weeks Ralston believes is one of the best.

“He is phenomenal,” Ralston said of Baracus. “He’s been here a long time and he knows this course like probably no one else. I’ve not even had a chance to play it, but Bo has taken me around on it and we’ve got a really great course here.”

Ralston’s ties to golf are strong. His father Bob played on the PGA tour and seniors’ tour. He won hundreds of south-central section events. He’s been head golf pro at Maumelle and the Belvedere Golf Resort at Hot Springs, where Dustin grew up attending Fountain Lake High School. While never winning a national PGA event, Bob Ralston won hundreds of south-central section tournaments and is also in the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame.

Dustin’s brother Heath was a golf pro for many years and played professionally. Dustin is also brother-in law to Glen Day, one of Arkansas’ most successful professional golfers.

“I’ve just been around it my whole life and I love the game and everything about it,” Ralston said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be around it at a very high level.”

Though Dustin didn’t reach the same level of success as some family members as a player, he has done his job as golf pro very well.

He was named Arkansas’ Golf Professional of the Year in 2003 and 2006.

Dustin was a successful high-school golfer and went on to play competitively at the collegiate level at Arkansas State University. That’s where he developed the desire to get into the instruction and management side of the sport.

“To be honest I just knew I wasn’t good enough to keep moving up in the sport,” Ralston said. “It’s absolutely nuts how good those guys are and how good you have to be to really excel and be successful at this game. But I love playing and I love being a part of golf. And I’m very happy to be at Southern Oaks.”

The club has grown considerably since last summer, the first under the new management. Membership is up from 125 last year to between 195 and 200 full members, with 15 new members joining so far this month. There are approximately 80 social members. A full membership for an individual is $145 per month and family memberships are $165. Memberships for active military are only $99 per month.

The club swimming pool will open on Memorial Day weekend.

“We’ve got a lot going on here for the next few months and into summer,” Ralston said. “If anyone wants to check it out, they can just come right on by and see me.”