Ashley Eller-Cottrell, please tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born, raised, and where do you live now. What’s your current career position?
“I was born and raised in Old Hickory. I followed in the family tradition and went to college at the University of Alabama – Roll Tide. I then moved to Los Angeles but made my way back to Tennessee and now live in Old Hickory again. I am the president at Hermitage Golf Course.”
Family? Married? Children?
“My husband, David, is the director of food and beverage at Hermitage Golf Course. We will celebrate 20 years of marriage in the fall. We have three children, Carter, 18, Henry, 15, and Anne Michael, 12.”
Where did you graduate from high school? College? Degree?
“I attended Goodpasture Christian School from first through 12th grade and then the University of Alabama with a major in public relations and a minor in business.”
What brought you to Hermitage? Why?
“The course opened in 1986 when I was 11. I literally grew up here. When I moved back from L.A., I joined a public relations firm in Nashville. After about nine months of being there, our previous director of tournament sales at the course was retiring, and it was a perfect fit at the time. That was almost 20 years ago.”
I understand you are the president of Hermitage Golf Course. Please tell us when this course was founded and by whom? When did you take over?
“The course was founded Ray Danner and my father, Mike Eller. We opened in 1986. I took over as president four years ago in March 2017.”
Where is it located?
“It’s in Old Hickory along the Cumberland River.”
Please tell us how you came to this position. What are your duties as president?
“Jim Vernon, our previous director of golf, retired in 2017, and at the time, we restructured, and I took over as president to oversee all the departments and manage the facility. That said, it is more than a one-person job. I have an amazing team. Bobby Schultz, who has been with us since before we started the course, is our director of operations. Chris Pierce is our director of golf. David Cottrell is our director of food and beverage, and Monica Bates is our director of special events.”
Tell us a bit about this course. How many acres, amenities, etc. are there?
“The course is built on 460-plus acres. General’s Retreat is our original course and played host to the Sara Lee Classic from 1988-99. President’s Reserve is our newer of the two courses and it is built in wetlands. It was voted the top daily fee course in the state by Golf Digest. We are a full-service golf course. We have eight luxury cottages for guests. We have on-site and off-site catering, as well as 45 Scottish blackface sheep that roam the property. They are truly an added attraction. As we like to say, ‘any course can have 18 holes, or in our case 36, but we want it to be an experience.’”
What was your job prior to this one? What skills are needed to oversee such a large course?
“I was in public relations. You need to have good management skills and enjoy working with the public.”
How many employees do you have?
“We have 50 full-time and upwards of 125 employees during the height of the season.”
Do you golf? If so, when did you start this sport? Do you recommend people take up golf?
“I started playing when I was about 3 years old. In our family, it’s just what you did. And yes, I think everyone should at least try it. It is great for entertainment, exercise, meeting new people and where else can you find a more peaceful office to discuss business deals? As my grandfather, Harold Eller, said, ‘It’s the only sport you can play by yourself and until you are old.’”
Do you have a lot of tourneys there?
“Yes. We hold about 150 golf tournaments a year. With us having two 18-hole courses, we are able to handle the large groups of 200-plus players at the same time.”
How did the pandemic affect your business? It is outdoors, so maybe you stayed open last year?
“We were blessed that golf was listed as an essential activity throughout the whole pandemic. Golf was one of the only activities for so long that people could do away from home that was safe. If anything, golf has only grown.”
Are you involved in any local organizations?
“Currently, I’m not, but I would love to get involved with a couple of organizations again. I previously sat on the board of Easter Seals of Tennessee.”
What are some career highlights and biggest career accomplishments?
“I would say our whole team adjusted during the pandemic. During the first seven weeks, we closed our clubhouse and moved our pro shop outside, along with a grill, so we could properly serve the golfers. We had single-cart riders, noodles around the pins, etc. We did everything we could to make sure we were providing a safe environment. It wasn’t easy, but our team did a fantastic job, and I couldn’t have been prouder. Also, in 2019, we were honored to host the Special Olympics North America Golf Championship. To watch those athletes come out each day and compete, encourage each other and bring so much joy to everyone they met was the best feeling. We can’t wait to host them again.”
What have you learned in your years overseeing this business?
“I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. At the end of the day, it’s just golf.”
What are your top favorite things about Hermitage?
“I love our two manicured courses, friendly staff, beautiful cottages, delicious food and amazing sheep.”
Who is your mentor? Why? Are you a mentee to anyone?
“I would say my parents. To be able follow in their footsteps and continue with all they have built, it is the greatest feeling.”
If you could spend an evening with anyone, past or present, who would it be and why? What would you ask him or her?
“I would want to meet Jesus.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received and given?
“The best piece of advice I’ve given was to remember who you are and who and what you represent. I say this to my children.”
“I enjoy traveling, cooking with my husband and going to concerts.”
What would surprise us about you?
“I don’t play golf. I quit when I was a child, but I’m considering playing again. I played in a golf tournament with friends about a week ago and had a blast.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
“I hope I’m still here with two children in college, one almost out of high school and two more English bulldogs.”
“We have two yellow labs, Sandy and Swiper, that are mother and daughter and our English bulldog, Martha. Martha comes to work with me every day.”
Are you a movie or book person? What’s your favorite book or movie?
“I would love to say book, but I only ready when I’m go on vacation, so I have to say a movie. I will say, one of the things I have missed most during the pandemic is going to the movie theater.
Do you like to travel? If so, what’s your favorite place you’ve visited and somewhere you’d love to visit when it’s safe?
“It is my favorite thing to do. I love to plan it, travel, see new places, try local food, etc. Last year, we bought a camper trailer, and that has been fun for our family. Our children love it. Last year, we took a two-week vacation and drove to South Dakota, Wyoming, Yellowstone Park, Idaho and then back home. Of course, this was all before we bought our camper. It was the best trip. We saw so many beautiful wonders of God’s creations that I had seen in pictures. But to get to see them in person with my family is something we will never forget.”
Some answers were edited.