Dewey Tomko- An Enigma
“Do you need a passport to go to Hawaii?”
“What language do they speak in London?”
“Is there something other than French Fries to eat in France?”
These are some of the questions Dewey Tomko asked me when I met him over 25 years ago. The questions were sincere but nonetheless they lulled me into dropping my guard against his true persona, that of a golf handicapper. Note that I didn’t call him a golf hustler because that type of person will lie about his true ability to give his opponent no chance of winning. With Dewey, you always had a chance albeit slim.
Around 1992, I was in Orlando for a Kubasaki High School Reunion. Although I had attended high school on Okinawa, our school had reunions in different parts of the U.S. After the Reunion, Dewey invited me down to Winter Haven for a little golf.
When I got down there, he told me that a frost had killed all the lemon trees in Florida and so he had decided to convert his orchard into a golf course. A good friend of his who was also the architect for Nick Faldo had agreed to design the course for only $120,000. That was quite a good deal when the going rate was $500,000 or more. It was about dusk, but Dewey wanted to show me and Hilbert Shirey the golf course. It seemed like we had driven to the middle of nowhere when we came upon a fenced area with construction equipment. I looked out at the barren tract of land and said, “Ok, it looks good, let’s go to dinner.”
I was not going to be so fortunate. “No, I’ll show you around, “said Dewey and he unlocked the chain-link gate and drove out in a 4 seater golf cart. We got in and he got out. “Where are you going?” I asked. “I’ve got to lock the gate,” he replied. “Dewey, we’re in the middle of nowhere and we’ll be (or so I thought) right back. You don’t have to lock it. There’s no one around.” Dewey briefly thought about what I had said and then resolutely said, “No I have to lock it.” Hilbert and I shrugged our shoulders and proceeded to wait. We were chatting but when that wait seemed to be way too long to just lock a gate, I turned to look. Dewey was in front of the gate and seemed to be struggling. I got out, walked over and asked what was wrong. “I just can’t get this to reach,” an exasperated Dewey exclaimed. I immediately saw the problem and chuckled. “Dewey, you have to close the gate all the way so the chain can reach”, I explained. He had not closed the gate completely flush so the ends of the chain couldn’t link with each other. After I showed him, he said, “I knew it would close because it was locked when I opened it.”
We started on our tour and after every few holes, I said that it looks pretty good and suggested we go to dinner but he proceeded to give me a tour of all 18 holes. Dewey was a scratch golfer and this was his baby so he could envision the layout of each hole but all I could see was dirt. This course is the Southern Dunes which is now in the Top 10 public courses in Florida and the architect, Steve Smyers is on the Executive Committee of the USGA. Yet all I could see that night was a dirt tract and all the “holes” looked the same.
When we finally returned to the storage area, Dewey jumped out to open the gate and I drove the cart in and parked it exactly where Dewey directed me because that was the only spot the cart could be parked. As we walked out, we asked Dewey if he needed help locking the gate. “No, I got it,” he retorted. We had walked about 20 yards, when we heard, “Oh shit” and turned around. This time, he had successfully locked the gate but he was on the wrong side. We just started laughing. This is a true story.
The Professional Golf Invitational (PGI)
When Jack Binion owned the Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas, in addition to the World Series of Poker, he also hosted the PGI for poker players and other professional gamblers. For this annual event, phrases like “Enter at your own risk” and “Let the buyer beware” come to mind.
Dewey had a theory that handicaps could be equalized by distance. He resurrected the PGI at the Southern Dunes putting players on its different tees to compensate for their skill level.
“I Don’t Know Nothing”
Some people get mired in the details and lose sight of the whole picture. Another mistake I’ve seen people make is that they believe they have to develop their personal skills in their business or project to placate their ego when they are on the wrong side of the learning curve. Dewey has no such ego. He is the owner of one of the most successful upscale restaurants in a competitive market and he will tell you, “I don’t know nothing.” Next door is Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse but the activity is predominantly in front of the Vines Grille & Wine Bar. The creative and managerial success is due to Dimitrios Karatiniis who had a small restaurant in the same location and used to play golf at the Southern Dunes. In 2004 he parlayed his talent as a restaurateur into the popular and vibrant new Vines.
I was once in the same situation as Dewey. I didn’t know anything about the restaurant business and had been warned against investing in one but I had an experienced partner that had owned a successful one in the past. He was also a chef and had the creativity of an interior designer. Unfortunately he was not a restaurateur and violated its top 3 rules: Location, Location, Location! Voila had great food and reasonable prices but customers would look at our menu and walk next door to the Olive Garden.
The Vines is located in the center of Orlando’s Restaurant Row and close to the Convention Center and other major hotels.
Necessity is the Mother of All Invention
In the evenings, Dewey would want to go hit golf balls but the driving ranges weren’t open at night in Orlando. Simulators had advanced considerably in sophistication. They can analyze each shot and compare their differences with every other shot. Plus you could play any course in the world in a couple of hours while drinking beer with your buddies all in air-conditioned comfort. When you watch a game, don’t you prefer a giant screen? How about the largest screen short of a sports arena? The problem with a screen of that size is that it takes up a lot of space in height and width and the viewers can’t be too close. Of course, golf requires a putting green so why not put one between the giant screen and the sports bar? Voila, you have Dewey’s Indoor Golf & Sports Bar, 15,000 square feet of it.
He has also considered other revenue streams. A distributor for the golf simulators, he also intends to market to golf companies during conventions. What a comfortable set-up for clients to test golf clubs?
A Book of Five Rings Club
Japan’s greatest samurai, Musashi Miyamoto’s classic book is “A Book of Five Rings”. Battle in the 1600’s consisted of individual sword fights. Musashi had analyzed the sword strokes and grouped them into 5 concentric circles that were applicable for both offense and defense. By mastering these 5 “Rings”, the samurai would be formidable in any battle. Studied by Japanese businessmen, the book is complex and philosophical but the core concept is that strategy must be encompassing. All aspects of a project must be considered, planned, and executed for its successful conclusion. Dewey makes it evident that one does not have to be worldly or mechanically inclined to be a successful entrepreneur. He has focus on his goal and implements all the elements of “A Book of Five Rings” even if he probably has never heard of it.
Dewey Tomko starts with his vision. How do you know where you’re going if you don’t conceptualize your goal? He then considers all the aspects of reaching that goal. He knows he doesn’t have the skill set himself but he finds the ones that do. Not a greedy person, he gives his partners and associates ample incentives to do a stellar job.
Dewey is a member of the “A Book of Five Rings Club” because he is a visionary that exercises its concepts and makes thing happen. The other requirement is financial success.
Ideas are important but execution is priceless…Stephen Wolff.