Downsized Exec Finds Greener Grass

After 30 years at AT&T, Ron Hambrick finds a future in backyard putting greens.

While AT&T employees are anxiously awaiting the next round of job cuis, Ron Hambrick can understand their predicament. He was among the 20,000 people AT&T let go last year.

The Hurst resident spent more than three decades at AT&T before being downsized. The upside was that his severance package gave him the financial wherewithal to retire and head for the golf course. But at 55 he wasn’t ready to retire.

AT&T CEO Michael Armstrong “decided to offer a financial incentive to cut the tat,” Hambrick says. “It hit me perfectly even though I didn’t want to retire. The package was so lucrative that I couldn’t say no.”

Just days after the top marketing executive bid AT&T farewell, he did end up finding his way to the golf course, but not playing the game. Instead, he went to work for his nephew’s start-up. United Turf Industries, installing backyard putting greens.

In 1997, Hambrick’s nephew, Lance Pierce, started United Turf to design artificial putting greens and install them in backyards near his native Wichita, Kansas. Pierce and Ham brick had talked about Hambrick’s joining the company before, but at the time, Hambrick wasn’t ready to leave AT&T.

Then the cuts came.

“It was a godsend,” says Hambrick. “I welcomed the change.”

Hambrick’s wife, Linda, wasn’t as thrilled, and while she supported him, she was pessimistic about the abrupt change from the security of working for one of the world’s largest companies to the one-man operation of selling and installing putting greens.

Hambrick had played golf for 35 years, but he had no experience selling the game. He did know marketing, however. When he left AT&T, he was the company’s national sales director.

So far. his new business hasn’t exactly taken off, He and his team install an average of just three greens a month, mainly in Texas, but his territory also includes the Southwest. The greens aren’t cheap, either

in price or quality, and they’re not for everyone. Prices range from $3,000 to $25,000 installed, depending on the size and complexity of the green. It takes at least three days to install the layers of base materials, much the way a real putting green is constructed, then lay in a Softrak cover. With its 10,000 fiber tips per square inch, the Softrak surface ensures that a golf ball will behave on the artificial turf as it would on real grass.

United Turf claims the weather-resistant product has a minimum life of 15 years. Upkeep requires only a leaf-blower.

Hambrick customizes each installation based on the number of stainless steel cups installed, and he can design any combination of breaks and undulations you can think of.

“I think someone who’s really a fervent golfer would enjoy these,” he says. “Someone who’s interested in their short game-the area around the green. Il adds a lot to your landscape, too.”

He’s appeared at several golf shows to demonstrate his product, but so far his marketing has been limited. Hambrick hopes a direct mail campaign to Southwestern subscribers of Golf Digest, and an ad in Par Four will start paying off soon.

As for what he’d tell his former colleagues facing AT&T’s next round of cuts. Hambrick says he’d encourage them to use their experience at other companies.

“I’d tell them to depend on their own professional skills and expertise,” Hambrick says. “There’s such a demand for telecommunication skills. The key is to acquire your own professional skills and apply them to other companies.”

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