With each issue of IMPACT, the Mackinac Center interviews one of its supporters to highlight the people behind what we do in support of free markets. This issue, we feature Edward “Ted” Lunt of Midland, who owns “Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf.”
Mackinac Center: Tell us about your work experience.
Lunt: I’m really an entrepreneur. We got into this golf business in 1982. We’ve got 26 of them all over the East Coast, from Bar Harbor, Maine, all the way down to Orlando. I worked 22 years as an accountant. My father was one, and I headed in that direction, but it wasn’t for me. I’m an entrepreneur at heart. So in 1982, I decided to chase my dreams.
Mackinac Center: Was it difficult convincing a bank to finance this amusement venture?
Lunt: At first, yes. They told me, “You’re nuts! This is miniature golf in Michigan.” But we did it.
Mackinac Center: How did you convince them?
Lunt: We tested the daylights out of the market. We decided to build the first one in Traverse City. We went to the highway department to get their statistics and counted the cars by the site we were looking at, how many campsites were in the area, how many hotel rooms, you name it, condos. We figured if 1 percent came by with three people playing, it would work.
We presented our financial projections, and they just laughed me out of the room. So I cut the projections in half, then went back to the same banks and they said, “That’s more realistic.” But the reality of it was my original projections were a whole lot closer to what actually happened. That’s one of my proudest moments. We knew what we were talking about.
Mackinac Center: Is it miniature golf or putt-putt?
Lunt: Neither. It’s “adventure golf” [laughs]. When we started, we did not want to be “putt-putt” or miniature golf, we wanted something different. There’s an ad agency in Traverse City that recommended “Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf.” That name has taken off like Kleenex to tissue. You go across the country and you’ll find names like “John’s Adventure Golf.” The name got picked up. We could never copyright it. It was too general. But they said we can say “Pirate’s Cove: The Original Adventure Golf.” We want to give guests an experience, not just a simple activity. It’s for kids and adults.
Mackinac Center: Going from accounting to the entertainment business seems like an unlikely career shift. Was it difficult making that transition?
Lunt: No. That was easy [laughs]. I was never meant to be a bean counter. I needed something I could be proud of. Even after thirty years, we still run them, all of them. We still own them. My son goes around and visits all of them to make sure everything is running smoothly. I just like to keep my fingers in because it’s fun. We employ around 500 people. We’re proud of that.
Mackinac Center: How did you learn about the Mackinac Center?
Lunt: A friend had told me about them, so I investigated and found out that I agreed with what they were doing. Years ago, I was on its Mid-Michigan board of advisors. They said they were a think tank, so I wanted to give them things to think about [laughs].
Mackinac Center: What value do you believe the Mackinac Center provides?
Lunt: I think they bring tremendous value. I think it’s a great organization. It fights the battles that no one else does. That’s why I like them and that’s the value. I believe in what they teach, but I don’t have the time or energy or the resources to do anything about it. So I’m really glad to have the Mackinac Center out there.
Mackinac Center: With businesses and locations all over the country, why do you stay in Michigan?
Lunt: Friends and family. We have a place in Petoskey that we go to in the summer. We love Midland. It’s a nice town. I’ll never sell my house here. It’s nice to go to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning and run into five people you know or go to the mall and bump into old friends. It’s just friendly. It just works for us.