NADLER GOLF CARS TRULY A FAMILY AFFAIR
by Len Ziehm for the Illinois PGA
Theirs is a success story unlike most others in the world of golf.
For starters, the Aurora-based Nadler clan has the longevity factor going. Nadler Golf Cars has been in business over 50 years and is still going strong. Through it all, it’s remained a family business that is now a third-generation operation servicing nearly half of the roughly 400 courses in the Chicago area.
The company leases about 6,000 golf cars and provides the maintenance on them summer and winter. And, just as important, the company gives back to the game. That was underscored this year when Nadler Golf Cars was declared the longest running continuing sponsorship for the Illinois PGA’s Pro-President Championship, which is approaching its 40th year.
Nadler Golf Cars also has been the title sponsor of the Illinois PGA Championship for over 10 years and recently signed up for another three-year extension. The Nadlers support additional local organizations including the Midwest Golf Course Superintendents Assn. (over 40 years) and the First Tee of Aurora, who named their headquarters the Nadler Golf House of Learning.
``We want to be visible to all our customers in the area,’’ said Eric Nadler, the company president since 2013 when he replaced his father, Dave. ``It’s very important to our family to give back to those guys. Without them we wouldn’t have our business.’’
The Nadler’s story, though, goes way beyond the giving back policy. It’s one well worth telling just from the historical perspective. In 1963 Bill and Bea Nadler – parents to Dave and grandparents to Eric -- were operating a Harley-Davidson motorcycle shop in Elgin. They entered the golf industry when Harley-Davidson came out with one of the first golf cars.
``We’re very fortunate for the vision my grandfather had, both for our family and for golf in Chicago,’’ said Eric. ``He put golf cars in as a sideline, and my grandmother said he was crazy. She had a lot of reservations. She believed people walked in golf.’’
Most did, of course, but Bill Nadler was able to lease four or five cars to the Fox Valley Golf Club, which is now owned by the city of Aurora, and he started pounding on the doors of other courses. When the motorcycle industry started experiencing tough economic times Nadler opted to focus strictly on golf cars.
``Some thought he was crazy again,’’ Eric admitted.
But he wasn’t, as it turned out.
Dave Nadler entered the business when he was 11, basically on the maintenance end, to support his father and the then one other employee the company had. Times were as tough for golf cars as they were for motorcycles then.
``When (Bill Nadler) got his first demo he decided to stop by a golf course, and he went to Bonnie Dundee (the longstanding public course in Algonquin),’’ said Dave. ``The owner told him `everybody at my course walks.’’’
That was that, for a few months, but before the year was out Bill Nadler was called back to that club because the owner had a change of heart. Other course operators were also willing to try the power cars, and a thriving business was born.
``He was in the right place at the right time,’’ Dave said of his father. Dave became a full-time employee after finishing college in 1974 and joined forces with his brother Keith and sister Karen (now Karen Baumgartner) to buy out their father in 1981.
They were the officers when Eric, Dave’s son, and Matt Baumgartner, Karen’s offspring, got involved.
``I started as an 8-year old washing golf cars,’’ said Eric. ``I found out early on about manual labor. I found out what the real world was all about.’’
He later spent summers working in the parts and service departments during his high school years.
``In high school my father and uncle were harder on me than the rest of the employees, and before I was to go to college my dad sat me down and gave me an opportunity (to work towards taking over the company),’’ said Eric. ``I didn’t want to do it.’’
In stepped grandfather Bill again. They had a talk on a vacation in Wisconsin, and Eric changed his mind. He worked for the company for 17 years before he and Matt took over ownership of Nadler Golf Cars on Jan. 1, 2013. The company has tripled in size over the last 10 years.
Keith Nadler retired from the company in 1997 and Dave in 2013. Bill Nadler passed away on March 7, 2013, at the age of 94. Karen Baumgartner remains active, and the operation has grown to 18 full-time employees – some of whom were hired over 40 years ago by grandfather Bill. Another four are generally brought in to help with seasonal projects.
The Illinois PGA has long benefitted from its connection with three generations of Nadlers. Michael Miller, who left the Illinois PGA this year after 23 years serving as tournament director and then executive director, said the Section ``wouldn’t be where we are without the Nadler family. They have been such a vital part of what the Illinois PGA has done.’’
In addition to the event sponsorships Dave Nadler served on the Illinois PGA Foundation board that launched a $2 million program in the late 1990s that benefits Maryville Academy and the First Tee programs, among others. The Nadlers were among the initial donors.
Carrie Williams, who took over as Miller’s replacement in August after serving as executive director of the Illinois Junior Golf Assn., was well aware of the good things done by the Nadlers from an earlier working stint with the Illinois PGA.
``The support that Nadler Golf and the Nadler family have provided the Illinois PGA throughout their decades of sponsorship is unparalleled,’’ she said. ``Not only is their financial support of the Section and its PGA Professionals integral in continuing to elevate major events like the Illinois PGA Championship and Pro-President, the unique evolution of our relationship across multiple generations of the Nadler family sets Nadler Golf apart as both the longest-standing Section sponsor – and the most generous.’’