Ready, Willing and Able
Ty Payne is a Jack-of-All-Trades at Triple Tee Golf Center

Golf Range Times, Michael J. Stott contributing writer, May 23, 2008

What a life. When Ty Payne was 7, his neighbors built a public golf course across the street – a street where he and his brother played virtually every day. Golf became a major part of Payne’s life, which included more than one sport, however. When Payne was 19, he dove into a backyard swimming pool and emerged as a quadriplegic. Now, he manages a golf driving range in his own front yard. What a life.

And what a man. “He’s a super guy, and I admire him for not letting anything hold him back,” says Craig Brown, a regular patron who knows Payne as a multisport athlete and congenial owner of Triple Tee Golf Center in rural Centerburg, Ohio.

Located 35 miles north of Columbus, Ohio, Triple Tee was established in 1999 and built for about $90,000. The complex features an elevated 60-foot-by-250-foot, 27-stand tee line. Irrigated, the Kentucky bluegrass/rye target area extends even beyond the 325 yards that Payne keeps meticulously mown.

“Their flags are set at 50-, 100-, 150-, 200-plus intervals, and the landing area is level so you can see the flags and where the ball lands. They keep the grass in good shape,” Brown says.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

Triple Tee’s primary season runs from April through October. Payne keeps a 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. summer schedule with the help of a Rangeland series 1000 ball dispenser that accepts bills and credit cards. The range’s fees are $3 for 35 balls, $5 for 70 and $10 for 175. It’s a no-frills, no-hassle operation. There is no short-game area, no lights, no clubhouse and no food except for a vending machine that dispenses soda and water.

But the absence of other amenities apparently has not bothered golfers.

“It’s a nice country atmosphere with good people and where you know everybody,” Brown says. “It’s like the old mom and pop country store.”

“We are lucky to have such a nice range nearby,” says frequent player Jerry Mizer. “They have nice equipment, nice range balls and maintain the property. They are serious about their range. What they do, they do well.”

Regulars flock to the range several times a week to hit balls and make small talk with other patrons; Payne; Payne’s father, Ted; and his brother, Tracy. They selected the name Triple Tee because all three help run the business.

Although he can stand and walk with assistance, Payne uses a wheelchair for practical reasons. It makes it easier for him to meet the demands of running a busy range. Payne emerged from his diving mishap partially paralyzed and diagnosed with an incomplete spinal cord injury.

“I have pretty good function of my right hand and about 30 percent in my right leg. I have limited function on my left side,” he says. “I can do just about everything on the range except for loading the sand and seeding down the tee box. I can’t move the bag stands and ropes on the tee line very easily when I have to mow. My dad and brother hook the equipment up and generally take care of the tee line now, throwing down a mixture of 60 percent sand, 20 percent topsoil and 20 percent peat when tee line turf needs replenishing.” he says.

“He still does a lot of the work,” Brown notes. “He climbs in and out of the ball retriever, the tractor. He gets around.”

To help him navigate the grounds, Payne has three John Deere machines: a Gator 6 x 4, a 955 tractor and a tee mower. He also uses a Toro gang mower, a Grasshopper mower and a Club Car golf cart. Payne has the machinery rigged so that he can mow and pick the range at the same time.

Vital to the operation is a Range Servant automated ball system that works by driving a ball picker over a concrete ball ditch that Payne and Tracy designed and poured. The ditch is filled with water and receives balls that are hydraulically dumped from above. The ditch serves as a ball soaking area. From there, the balls are lifted by an elevator into a Range Boss ball washer, and then elevated to the ball machine or taken to the 10-foot by 20-foot sales facility or the 12-foot by 12-foot maintenance building.

A WATCHFUL EYE

Payne does not man the range dawn to dusk. Instead, he supervises his 12-acre site from his house on a hill an eighth of mile away. There is an ebb and flow to business, and Payne makes appearances as commerce and maintenance dictate, frequently selling balls on weeknights and weekends.

Triple Tee is located by Table Rock Golf Course, a par 72, 18-hole public layout just across the street. Built in 1972, Table Rock closed its “irons only” range when Triple Tee opened its facility in 1999. The golf course’s presence has a significant impact on Triple Tee’s revenue stream. The two businesses freely share customers.

“The synergy between us has been great,” says Jeff Butler, Table Rock head professional and general manager. “I use their facility to give lessons. I also coach a high school boy’s team and run junior clinics, so I’m over there a lot.

“If anyone calls here and asks if I have a range, I explain it is not owned by Table Rock but it is pretty much on our property and players are welcome. We don’t advertise together, but when I fill out course information for web sites I just put ‘yes’ to the question ‘Do you have a range?’ When people get here they just take the carts across the street. In a lot of cases people don’t realize the range isn’t ours.

A HELPING HAND

After moving to Centerburg in 1969, the Paynes ran a farm on the property where the range is now located. Occasionally, the family thought of turning the spread into a driving range, but nothing materialized until Payne approached Helen McNamara, his vocational rehabilitation counselor at the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, with his idea for self-employment.

Fourteen years earlier, RSC had helped Payne with college tuition and books while he was pursuing an associate degree in graphic communications from Columbus State Community College.

“I’d interviewed for jobs in graphic communications, and couldn’t really find any,” Payne says. “Employers wanted me to crawl around on printing presses, and I didn’t have the ability to do that. I had this driving range idea and Helen was really supportive. She urged me to do research.”

Working together with RSC and EnterpriseWorks, a self-employment program affiliated with RSC, Payne received assistance in feasibility assessment, business-plan writing, business training course work and accessrelated issues. It took him almost a year to do his homework and write the business plan that would bring his dream to fruition.

“He saw it as an opportunity he could grow with,” McNamara says.

Officials accepted Payne’s plan and outline for financial responsibilities. From there, RSC helped Payne with range-related equipment purchases, including a mower, his ball ditch (machine and washer), bag stands, flags, a heavy-duty golf cart and a wheelchair. RSC also helped with vehicle modification, provision and delivery of services, so that he was able to open May 1, 1999. From then through September 2003, RSC monitored Triple Tee’s progress and provided follow-up assistance.

“He was great to work with,” McNamara says. “He had a great sense of humor and was up to the task.”

Paynes says the hardest part was developing techniques to perform the work with his physical limitations – but with the aid of family and friends, he gets the job done.

At 43 years of age he also is an inspiration – to himself and others. That is not to say everything is rosy in Payne’s world.

“From the outside it sounds pretty good, but there have been a lot of dark days, but I’m doing OK,” he muses.

EYE OF THE TIGER

Payne’s optimism and athleticism allow him to manage well. Clearly, his youthful daily diet of golf fed an innate desire to win.

“I like to compete in everything I do,” he says. “For some reason I want to be the best – or strive to be.”

When attending Columbus State, Payne participated in a functional electrical stimulation research project at Ohio State University that required him to walk around with a stimulator. A fellow participant talked Payne into a swimming competition, which promptly led to success at a meet in Canada, then later to the Wheelchair Nationals in Providence, R.I. From there, he was selected for meets in London and the Pan American Games in Venezuela. He ultimately was summoned to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for a week of instruction and testing.

From 1990-1995, Payne was a member of the Wheelchair Sports International team, making finals in the 50-meter breaststroke in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games. In June 1996, while training for the Atlanta Paralympic Games, he was coaxed to try tennis for the first time. Four months later, he went to Irvine, Calif., and won a national championship in tennis for athletes with his type of spinal injury.

Payne also is certified to scuba dive, plays table tennis and golf, shoots pool, does hand cycling, has been active in wheelchair rugby (“full contact, you’re ramming chairs,” he says) and started a wheelchair softball team on which he played from 1993-1997. At Triple Tee, he has hosted a college tournament, Callaway demo days and has held annual clinics for disabled golfers since 2006.

GIVING BACK

Shannon Allen is technical assistant specialist with Ohio Medicaid, and a regular at Table Rock and Triple Tee. He lives in Reynoldsburg, more than 20 miles from Centerburg, and ignores a golf range closer to home to take advantage of Triple Tee, which he regards as one of central Ohio’s premier driving ranges.

“With an ideal location, ample parking, excellent tees, and easy access, this is by far the best driving range I have ever experienced,” Allen says. “Plus, its open design is a welcome layout for those with disabilities. Easy access to the ball machine and tees is useful for the mobility impaired individual.”

Triple Tee is registered with the USGA as an adaptive golf facility. As disciples for the disabled, Allen and Payne have worked with the National Park Service on Association for Disabled Americans issues for golf courses. The two met with officials from the Wheeling (W.Va.) Park Commission in 2007, offering ADA guidance. They provided ADA education to the City of Columbus Parks and Recreation division, and consulted with Mobility Golf on various ADA issues.

“We have worked with SoloRider Golf Carts regarding golf facility ADA rules,” Allen says.

Integral to Triple Tee’s involvement has been the generosity of Century Equipment in Hilliard (near Columbus), which has made available a SoloRider, a single rider adaptive golf car (see sidebar), to Triple Tee, allowing Payne to fully demonstrate to clinic attendees that golf is a game for both the able and disabled.

These days, Payne plays 18 holes once or twice a week with a foursome of high school buddies. He hits the ball robustly.

“I can get 150 yards with a roll,” he says. “I swing one arm because I can’t get a good left hand grip and have limited power in my left triceps, but I play plenty of tennis and it doesn’t affect my golf swing.”

“Ty hits from the red tees. He’s pretty much in there with all of us,” Allen says.

Country driving ranges are frequently marginal businesses. Ty’s dad, Ted, had heart surgery recently and is just now getting up to speed. Tracy owns a manufacturing facility on family property just west of the range. Payne himself is a part-time customer service representative with Discover Card.

“I’m close to making money,” he says, “but I’m still paying off loans. Repairs to the equipment have killed me over the years. I’ve had problems with starters going out and speed controls on the golf cart. That’s $100 here, $200 there, $300 here. Last year sharpening reels cost me about $1500. That’s a lot of balls. Right now I’m thinking about raising bucket prices because of the cost of fuel, but I haven’t decided yet.”

While revenues may not be flowing as freely as he would like, Payne’s spirit is clearly moving in the right direction. Friends treasure the relationships made at Triple Tee and the opportunity to gather for fellowship and sport. In many ways, Payne is a man fulfilled.

“I’m just a country boy, I guess,” Payne says. As for his life as an entrepreneur, athlete and facilitator for the disabled, he admits, “I’ve done more than I would have ever done if I hadn’t had my accident.”