Rich LaBar of LaBar Golf

How the Art of Relationship Building is the Core of LaBar Golf’s Continued Success

From Golfing Magazine, June 26, 2024. By Sean Fitzsimmons.

As a business owner and an entrepreneur in the vigorous environment of sports, particularly golf, Rich LaBar has found his passion and established his golf family. As the CEO and founder of LaBar Golf, a highly esteemed golf course construction, renovation, and irrigation company based in New Jersey, LaBar’s journey to success is largely attributed to the art of relationship building and the impact of positive leadership. LaBar’s path to achieving his dream goes beyond rolling in the dozers and knowing the ins and outs of golf design; it’s about the connections made and maintained within the ever-evolving golf industry. Throughout the three decades of gaining experience, building relationships and launching the business, Rich has been able to not only build a career beyond his wildest dreams but has also cultivated a community that is the foundation of his success.

LaBar’s love for the game of golf was established at a young age when he would tag along with his father, Richard LaBar Sr. who was an assistant superintendent at what is now Great Gorge Golf Club in Vernon, NJ. He went years without playing the game, but by observing every part of the business and embracing every moment in the field with his mentors, Gene Mulvihill especially, something about golf and the people alongside him made him feel at home and purposeful.

From the start, LaBar knew he couldn’t excel on his entrepreneur journey alone. He credits his wife Bridget and their two children, ages 9 and 12, for keeping him afloat during LaBar’s growth. “When we met, Bridget was a sales executive in content distribution for NBCUniversal, and traveled a great deal. She knew how difficult it was going to be on a marriage and a family to launch a business”, said LaBar. “My wife’s unwavering encouragement and support since the company’s conception have been an invaluable treasure. Her belief in what we were building has truly been a priceless gift and I couldn’t do it without her.”

Coupled with his family, LaBar has always placed creating and maintaining relationships within the golf community at the center of his professional development. He knows the importance of truly connecting with every person he meets along the way, and he has not wavered from that value. “You do one project or meet one person which leads to a referral which leads to the next one and that’s how this business grew,” LaBar said when explaining how LaBar Golf started to expand beyond the Northeast.

When LaBar Golf Renovations launched, the company’s work was limited to the Northeast where tough winters were commonplace. In a sense, these rough winter months, year after year, forced them to expand. “We needed to pay our bills, and payroll and cover equipment finances. So, we had to take the show on the road,” he said. LaBar leaned into relationships he had locally, particularly with those at Winged Foot Golf Club, a course his team had done work for previously. That trust and confidence led to LaBar’s first major project outside the New York Metropolitan area, Los Angles Country Club. “The Winged Foot team and its membership were thrilled with the work we did and supported our efforts to expand the company by way of great referrals and connections, LaBar said. “It just really started snowballing after that.”

The relationships LaBar has created and continues to nurture with his employees and the connections the employees have with one another is a testament to the experience and long-term connections that exist within LaBar Golf. “We have promoted within and built everything organically within this company,” said LaBar. Todd Saganiec, LaBar Golf’s Senior Vice President/Director of Operations, has been an intricate part of LaBar for almost 30 years. “When I was at the courses up in Sussex County, he [Todd] started working with me as a general laborer. He’s stayed with me and stayed with me all the way, managing projects, and everyone under me in the field reports to Todd,” explained LaBar. “Todd has 12 direct reports from each project superintendent, and each project superintendent has their own team. We try to never split those teams up so that the whole relationship stays completely cohesive.”

“Rich understands the importance of relying on the people in place to do a great job without ‘micromanaging’ every decision. Giving people the space to run projects with their own style allows them to take ownership and pride in each project” said Saganiec. “In turn, this allows our managers to mold teams, that go from project to project together, to their specific style. We take a lot of pride in training our employees to execute to the highest standard in the most efficient way. We are the best in the business because of our ability to train and retain our managers and the crews that work alongside them.”

Soon after LaBar took off, the company established small teams within the company. “You have to learn the business before you can talk the business,” LaBar explains is the best advice for those new to the golf industry or any entrepreneur. He embeds the company’s new hires into projects with experienced employees who have been a part of LaBar Golf for 15 or so years. Rich believes this process allows the jobs to become more attractive to the younger guys by showing the growth and development opportunities available. “The seasoned guys take on a mentor role. If there are outside meetings with some architects and some board members, the new guys participate by just sitting in and listening. They can learn and see how the relationships work”, said LaBar. “See it, feel it, touch it and learn it from people that are my eyes and ears.”

In addition to relying on a team he trusts implicitly, LaBar still also manages a significant portion of the business himself which is another contributor to the company’s success. “I sell every single project, I close every single deal, I have relationships with clubs, the greens committees, the presidents, the general managers, and that’s one part of the business I don’t ever plan on giving up. I think that’s what has helped make us as successful as we are,” expressed LaBar when talking about how the company has maintained success for so many years within a highly demanding business.

LaBar Golf Renovations launched LaBar Golf Irrigation in September of 2023. LaBar feels as though his golf family is complete with the addition of the irrigation sector. “We are known for being one of the fastest, most efficient and quality-driven companies in the business, and without having the irrigation division we were relying on either subcontracting that out to other irrigation companies, or the club would hire their own irrigation contractor. It makes us more efficient.” said LaBar when explaining the window of opportunity he saw when adding on the irrigation division.

Within LaBar Golf, LaBar has fostered a culture that mirrors positive values both personally and professionally which is key to how the company has been able to remain so tight knit while simultaneously growing exponentially. And the company only has more exciting things coming soon. LaBar Golf is currently building what is arguably their biggest golf course construction projects yet, Trout National Golf Club amongst numerous other club renovations and irrigation projects and plans to open a west coast office in California next year. “Business is good”, laughs LaBar “and we are already booking out to 2027”.

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