Impeccable Grass the Standard at Pike Creek Turf
Nestled in the woods of Cook County is a family-owned turf farm focused on a quality product with customer service as an equal priority. Pike Creek Turf’s inception was made possible in 1989 with the vision and support of the patriarch of the family, Jimmy Allen. Jimmy credits the strong family bond as the main reason Pike Creek Turf has experienced success over the past 33 years. As part owner of Pike Creek Turf, he and his family run a very successful business providing quality turfgrass to clients all over the world.
Jimmy and his wife, Quay, have been happily married for 59 years. “It is Quay’s support through the years that has enabled me to do what I have done. I certainly could not have accomplished any of this without her by my side,” he said.
In addition to Quay’s help, their children and children’s spouses own and work for Pike Creek Turf. Their son, Jaimie Allen, runs the farm operations, and their daughter, Kim Allen Boling manages the office, personnel, collections, and marketing. Kim’s husband, Dake Boling, laser grades, fumigates, oversees field preparation, and plants the turfgrass fields on the farm. Jaimie’s wife, Lynne Allen, oversees administrative tasks.
Surrounding the 72-acre pond, all three families live and work on the farm. Across the pond, they built the cottage and barn to host turf conferences, events and seminars at Pike Creek Turf.
Jimmy was born and raised in Tifton, Georgia and has been working from the early age of 9-years-old when his mother got him a job delivering the newspaper for The Tifton Gazette. He said his mother taught him a lot of his bookkeeping skills in managing the collections from his newspaper customers. After six years running the paper route, he took a job washing cars at a service station in high school.
While in high school, Jimmy was president of a state-wide-recognized Key Club, and he played golf and baseball. He was offered golf scholarships to the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, but he decided to play baseball at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) in Tifton during his freshman year.
“While attending ABAC, I met my wife who I married within a year. One year after we were married, Jaimie was born. Then, 14 months later, Kim was born. Life was moving fast as we were 20 years old with two children,” Jimmy said.
He transferred to Valdosta State College and graduated second in his class with a degree in accounting. While there, Jimmy played in a professional golf mini-tour where he placed in the top five in several tournaments. Due to his respect for his parent’s convictions of not playing golf on Sundays, he decided not to pursue professional golf after college.
Instead of pursuing a career in golf, Jimmy went to work for Georgia Power. The Allen family moved to Atlanta for two years where he worked through an IBM training program as a potential management trainee. Next, he prepared for the CPA Exam by attending a CPA Review Course at the University of South Carolina. After passing the CPA exam, they moved back to Tifton where he opened his accounting practice. His firm quickly grew to 20 Certified Public Accountants and a staff of 40 employees.
Transition to Turfgrass
While in college, Jimmy had earned a minor in forestry. During his accounting career, he used his knowledge to acquire land. He began searching for land, purchasing properties plentiful with timber, and selling the timber to replant new trees. “I had substantial land assets, and I could start a business with what I had accumulated from my accounting firm investments,” Jimmy said.
Jaimie also earned an accounting degree, like his father. He graduated from the University of Georgia and worked for six months at the firm before telling Jimmy he wanted to farm. Since they had accumulated farmland over the past several years as investments, they had what they needed to start a turfgrass business. In 1989, they started Pike Creek Turf, planting 80 acres of turfgrass. The first few years Jimmy assisted Jaimie in running the pivot irrigation systems on the weekends. Eventually, they hired enough staff to operate the farm efficiently.
In 1993, following her five-year employment at Tift Regional Hospital, Kim joined the family business. She brought a different perspective to the company with a four-year degree in Clinical Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Valdosta State College. “My education as well as my work experience sufficiently prepared me to assist my family in the daily operations as well as the overall company decisions. I truly entered a different dynamic where I saw the world from an entirely new perspective when I began my journey with my family at Pike Creek Turf,” Kim expressed.
Jimmy retired from accounting and sold his firm in 1996. He decided to utilize the marketing skills he had acquired during his time as an accountant. He began assisting in the area of marketing for Pike Creek Turf. Pike Creek negotiates roughly 100 contracts per year.
Pike Creek Turf’s full-time traveling salesman is Bruce Allison, who has over 40 years of experience in the turf industry. Jimmy explained that Bruce does an excellent job of visiting people. He invites customers to come to the farm for a farm tour and stay at the cottage to see the turfgrass for their project. “While at the farm, we show the customers the genetic purity that we grow in our grass, which is the key to our marketing plan. We fumigate all of our fields with methyl bromide gas. All of our fields consist of certified grasses only, with a small exception,” he said. “Bruce is an excellent representative of Pike Creek Turf with vast knowledge of turfgrass.”
Al Kent, another 40-year veteran in the turf industry, serves as the Operation Manager who supervises the quotes and contracts for Pike Creek Turf. In addition, he oversees the road superintendents for the golf course projects.
“Pike Creek Turf’s success is dependent upon all of the employees of the company which help to create our Pike Creek Turf family. Our success would not be possible without the support, hard work, and dedication of all our employees. We have a great group of people, and we are grateful for all they do to help make Pike Creek Turf successful,” Jimmy said.
In the early 90s, Jimmy, Jaimie, and Kim implemented a system in their growing and production process to ensure genetically pure turfgrass. They spent several million dollars over the next 8-10 years on methyl bromide fumigation of all of their fields and replaced them with certified fields
Two years later, they realized marketing genetic purity through fumigation of their turfgrasses to their customers was vitally important. “Many jobs that we provide the turfgrass for are golf courses. Every golf course wants their turfgrass to be perfect. Therefore, genetic purity is at the top of each golf course customer’s list. In essence, by implementing fumigation practices, we captured the golf course market,” Jimmy said.
In order to ensure that the quality and purity of a specific turfgrass variety is maintained, Pike Creek Turf has dedicated tractors and harvesting machines specifically for each variety grown. This practice of dedicated equipment assists in avoiding cross-contamination among fields.
“Our quality is maintained not because of Jimmy Allen, but because of Jaimie Allen. He is the one driving the ship here maintaining the quality. And our quality goes well beyond fumigated certified turfgrass. We grow 17 turfgrass varieties and 12 of those are patented turfgrasses,” Jimmy said.
Jimmy’s background in golf, afforded him the insight and knowledge of the best variety of turfgrasses that would be the preferred varieties for golf courses, builders, and architects. “The golf course superintendent wants a good clean lie where the ball sits up on the turfgrass. We researched the different turfgrasses, and we selected the varieties that would have a good lie on the turfgrass, thus allowing a good selling point which enabled us the successful marketing of our turfgrass. The varieties we selected were positively impacted by my golf experience and Jamie’s turf growing knowledge,” Jimmy expressed.
Pike Creek Turf has grown into a prominent turfgrass supplier for high-end golf courses such as Augusta National Golf Club, Harbour Town Golf Links, Marriott courses, Trump National Golf Course, Ritz Carlton courses, Tournament Players Club (TPC) Sawgrass, and more.
“Due to the fact that previous golf course customers lead to even more referrals, Pike Creek Turf offers farm visits to allow each potential customer to have a firsthand view of the 1,800 acres of turfgrass before they decide whether or not to purchase our product for their course,” Jimmy said.
“In the early 2000s, there was a huge number of new golf course developments in the Southeast each year, and we were grassing large percentage of them. Our job sources were primarily due to architects, contractors, and golf course superintendents specifying Pike Creek Turf, and the remainder of the job sources were primarily from bids,” Jimmy explained.
“Between 2008-2017, the number of rounds of golf played had dropped significantly resulting in a decrease in the demand for turfgrass in the golf course market. However, the COVID pandemic has reversed that playing trend. Currently, there are more people playing golf than have played in many years. In order to keep these courses financially healthy, we need to continue to grow the golf course market by growing the number of golfers which will result in an increase in the number of rounds of golf played,” Jimmy said.
In the market, Pike Creek Turf supplies 80% golf, 10% landscape and 10% athletic fields. “Once new grasses are released, we look at which turfgrass varieties are best suited for our customer’s needs. Then, we decide if we are willing to purchase new farm equipment to grow and harvest a specific new variety,” Jimmy explained.
“In 2021, we furnished turfgrass for the Atlanta Braves Truist Park, the Houston Astros Minute Maid Stadium, and I believe this may be the first time the same turf farm supplied the turfgrass for both teams’ athletic fields in the World Series. Pike Creek Turf also supplies the turfgrass for many other collegiate as well as professional athletic fields,” Jimmy said.
In 2005, the economy began to slow down, and they realized they were entering a period of decline in turfgrass sales in the United States. As a result, in 2006 we expanded our services and market by building an international wash facility which provided us additional resources to continue our operations,” Jimmy said.
Pike Creek Turf ships grass to China, Vietnam, Dubai, Kuwait, India, South America, the Bahamas and other areas around the world. Once import permits arrive from the country requesting turfgrass, they work with the United States Department of Agriculture (UDSA) to get the order approved. Using their international wash facility at the farm, they wash the turfgrass. Following the washing of the turfgrass, they undergo a USDA inspection to acquire a phytosanitary certificate in order to ship the grass. Jimmy shared they have a cooler that can hold about five semi-loads of washed turfgrass. Once the turfgrass is washed and approved for shipping, the product is shipped in a refrigerated reefer from the farm to the approved country.
Jimmy has served in many various roles within his community as a part of his mission to give back. In the 80s, he was the Chairman of Economic Development for Tift County for over 10 years, focusing on recruiting new industry to the area. During that time, he was nominated and selected as the Economic Development Volunteer of the Year for the Southern half of the United States.
Jimmy served 20 years on the Tifton Regional Hospital Board, now known as Southwell, Inc., with roughly eight years as the board chairman. He also serves on both the Georgia Hospital Association Board and the Georgia Forestry Board. “I have a background of serving in organizations and programs that are for public benefit. I am attempting to pay back for what everyone has done for me. I think it is good to pay it back,” Jimmy expressed.
In appreciation for all of the hard work the Georgia Urban Agriculture Council (UAC) does for farms, Pike Creek Turf is a proud supporter. Pike Creek makes financial contributions to the council to assist them to be more viable to operate. “Never forget what brought you where you are. Give back for what others have done or are going to do for you,” he said.
“In 2021, we performed a significant amount of work due to the high demand in the market. At the present, we are still having successful years at Pike Creek Turf. We are beginning to make a substantial number of commitments for the 2022 and 2023 seasons which is in part has been driven by the state of the economy,” Jimmy said.
“You cannot settle with the turfgrass varieties you currently grow. The turfgrass industry is always evolving. In order to stay current with the release of new turfgrass varieties, it is extremely important to remain on the cutting edge of turfgrass developments”, Jimmy said. Currently, Pike Creek Turf is trialing several new turfgrass varieties, and they are excited about the future of turfgrass. Jimmy believes the foreseeable future will be most promising.
Jimmy said it is in their DNA that makes them continue to maintain the quality of turfgrass as they do. He believes the attention to detail established as accountants transitioned into their turfgrass careers. He said everyone in the family has the mentality of “do it right, or don’t do it at all.”
Jimmy recalls Dr. Wayne Hanna, turfgrass breeder of TifEagle, and Terry Hollifield, executive director at Georgia Crop Improvement Association both expressing to him that they think he and Jaimie working together to run Pike Creek Turf is like a perfect marriage with him over marketing and Jaimie over the growing. “Dr. Hanna and Terry also both said if our roles were reversed, we would be a failure, meaning Jaimie is no marketing person and I am no turfgrass grower. Which is pretty funny hearing from two guys who are well known in the industry.”
Jaimie said he is thankful for the close family relationships and how everyone balances each other so well to operate the business. Now, Jaimie’s oldest daughter, Katie Allen Connell, who graduated with an agriculture business degree from the University of Georgia has started working at Pike Creek Turf. Jimmy said it is very exciting to see the business move into another generation. Katie’s husband, Austin Connell, is working on the farm too. “This is the start of our future. We have three more granddaughters in college and one in high school, and we are hopeful they will come back and work on the farm.” Jimmy said.
For more information on Pike Creek Turf, click here.
This article was written by Cecilia Brown.