Bittersweet feelings as Uinta Golf sold again

Published: Sunday, April 22 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Instead, Uinta Golf became their cabin. To make a very long and very successful story short enough to fit into this column, Gordon and Lillian moved the golf business out of their basement two years later, operated out of rental space on Wilmington Avenue for a few more years, and in 1978 moved to 2100 South and built their building.

Year after year, decade after decade, the golf faithful beat a steady path to Uinta's door.

"Over the years, the story developed that I created it because the pros were gouging at their shops, but that wasn't the case," insists O'Neil. "We just gave our customers what they wanted and tried to always have it in stock so they didn't have to wait."

After 27 years, O'Neil sold the store to Smith, "so I could give myself an opportunity to do something else."

Like Smith, he has a bittersweet feeling about Uinta going to Edwin Watts.

"I think the world of Sean; I wish he'd kept it," O'Neil, 69, says. "But I can see why he's selling, and the Watts group has a reputation that's really great."

On his watch, Smith expanded Uinta by adding stores in Sandy, Ogden, Orem and St. George, but decided it wasn't going to be enough to compete with the super retailers in the long run.

"It needed to be part of something bigger," he says. "I'm confident the future is so much more secure."

Both Smith and O'Neil cite the same formula for Uinta's enduring success: quality employees and loyal customers.

"We've always had the greatest employees," says Smith, "and in contrast to groceries, where maybe half the shoppers in the store aren't happy to be there, here, they're all happy."

Many of Uinta's holdover staff will see increased responsibilities with the changeover. Joe Judd, Smith's popular longtime general manager, will now be district manager for Edwin Watts.

At 41, Smith isn't sure what he'll do next, but he's sure he'll find something new to sell. "Retail is all I know," he says, "and I love it."

As for the Uinta name, at least it will remain. For the first time in acquiring a business, Edwin Watts has announced it will keep the local brand.

As of May 1, it will be Edwin Watts Golf Uinta.

"I'm not sure the Uinta will last very long," muses O'Neil.

But isn't that what he said the first time?

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.

Email: benson@desnews.com

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