TURNER — If George Chiasson stood still atop one of the scenic vistas overlooking Turner Highlands Golf Course a decade ago, he probably could have heard the snickering.

Chiasson, his wife Donna and brother-in-law David Iannotti pooled their resources and knowledge to buy the 18-hole course and an enclosed restaurant from co-founder and original owner Steve Leavitt.

“Probably the golf community was laughing at non-golf people buying a golf course,” Chiasson said. “I think people that buy golf courses are golf pros or superintendents or people that have been golfing all their lives. We weren’t those people.”

Ten years later, any laughter was confined to a midsummer bash that celebrated the family’s ownership milestone.

Turner Highlands thrives and continues to evolve despite the challenges of the economy and its rural location.

“Say there were another 20,000 people around here, a lot more roofs and a lot more members, you could hire a lot more help to lighten your load a little bit,” Chiasson said. “You have to work with what you’ve got, so that’s what we do.”

Pick a daylight hour, any day of the week, and you are almost guaranteed that George or Donna is on site. Likely you’ll find both.

Although George recently hired a superintendent, Fred Shardlow, for the first time (“I’m not an agronomist,” he quipped), he still handles most day-to-day operations. Donna manages the pro shop and the eatery.

Iannotti is the club’s managing partner.

“I called Steve. He had this on the market. We started Thanksgiving week and closed May 1 the next year. It was a long process,” Iannotti said. “It’s a lifestyle. It really is. It’s a life choice.”

“You just have to enjoy it in the winter,” Donna Chiasson added.

Her husband worked as a master electrician for 20 years. From there, he went into the construction business, building and reselling five houses.

“So we weren’t rich, but we had some money and we were looking to buy a business we thought would make money,” he said. “We assumed the bubble would keep going. Own the golf course for 10 years and maybe it would be worth two (million), maybe it would be worth three. It’s not what happened.”

The team is constantly making changes to keep their pride and joy player-friendly and pleasing to the eye.

Trees have been cut down both for practical purposes, to expose more of the greens to more hours of sunlight each day, and for aesthetics, to open up fairways. Deer fence has given way to rock walls. The course is wider and drier.

Members marvel at the owners’ commitment to keeping up with their city cousins.

“He’s never off. We go fishing. On the way back, 8:30, 9 o’clock, he says, ‘I’ve got to go water the greens,’” George Campbell of Turner said. “Last year after the course had closed, I went up into the barn to say hi, and he was making new tee boxes for this year. They’re perfectly square. He was painting them and putting the spike in them.”

Retirement isn’t imminent, but it’s on the radar. George Chiasson joked that he recently took a course in chemicals that updated his license through 2021.

“That means I’ll never have to take another one,” he said with a laugh.

“It’s been a big learning curve,” he added. “I grind reels and work on equipment and fix tractors. All the tractors are the same ones we had 10 years ago, so they’re getting a little crusty. There’s a ton of behind-the-scenes things. There’s always something to do here. We do a lot ourselves.”


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