Robert ’88 and Traci (Gustafson) ’89 McNeil hit a hole in one
Alumni couple build successful golf course architectural firm together using skills they developed at Bryant.

Robert and Traci McNeil

Robert McNeil ’88 always knew his career would revolve around golf. While other 8-year-old boys dreamed of becoming firemen, policemen, or astronauts, Robert was digging up golf holes or playing with his mother's old wooden-shafted 9-iron in his backyard in Northbridge, MA.

Of course, growing up with a top-rated golf course practically next door contributed to his love of the game and ignited the spark for a future career in course design. “I learned how to play at Whitinsville Golf Club, which is thought by many to be one of the finest Donald Ross 9-hole golf courses in the world,” says Robert. Donald Ross, who died in 1948 at the age of 75, was one of the most significant golf course designers in the history of the sport and was credited with 600 designs and redesigns of golf courses in his lifetime.

Once the vision of golf course architecture as a lifelong profession was born, Robert took his first step by enrolling at Bryant. He joined the golf team under the watchful eyes of Coach (and Science Professor) Archie Boulet, and although his talent on the links didn't land him a spot on the PGA Tour, he did find the friendship and camaraderie of his teammates to be genuine and lasting.

“Most of the guys I played with at Bryant are still my friends today,” says Robert. “In fact, many of them are involved in the golf business in one form or another, and we network often to build knowledge and contacts.”

“My fate was sealed”

It wasn't only his career that benefited from his attending Bryant. He also met his wife and mother of his children, Traci (Gustafson) '89 while attending classes at the Smithfield campus. “I met my wife, and my fate was sealed,” says Robert.

Traci, who admittedly decided on Bryant because it “had the best dorms,” also acknowledges that she chose to attend the University because she knew she would acquire valuable skills. In fact, she was a key player in planning what many East Coast high rollers now know as Foxwoods Resort & Casino.

“In my senior year, I had a marketing research internship with Jason Grant Advertising in Providence,” she says. “One of the accounts I worked on was the Mashantucket Pequot Indians high-stake Bingo games. The tribe was researching how to get more people to attend the games. I was on the team that was part of the original plan to turn that Bingo hall into what it is today!”

Even as students, Traci and Robert were developing the complementary abilities that would enable them to work together as a team. Robert, a purchasing agent for Brycol, Bryant's student-run campus food service business (later alumni would find similar duties as Bryant Center student managers), negotiated with suppliers, scheduled deliveries, managed inventory, and ordered enough supplies to make it through a Friday night at the Country Comfort, the campus bar. Traci, on the other hand, was an active member of the Bryant Players, where she fine tuned her talent for maintaining her composure amid chaos, presenting to a large group, and projecting a self-assured presence.

“Living a childhood dream”

Robert continued on the career path he set in grade school and earned a Master's in Landscape Architecture from Ohio State University, while Traci pursued a career in advertising and marketing communications. “The time I spent in my first few jobs and the knowledge I gained aided me in building a foundation that ultimately would lead me toward becoming an entrepreneur,” says Traci.

Robert was also setting the stage for entrepreneurship by working first at New Albany Country Club, then Bird/Houk Land Planners & Architects, and then at Keith Foster Golf Course Design. Since establishing The Northeast Golf Company in 1996, Robert has provided numerous private, public, resort and municipal clients with a full scope of comprehensive, individually crafted golf course design services.

“'Job' is not the proper term for what I do,” says Robert. “I am living my childhood dream, and what's most gratifying is that I'm able to create something for others to enjoy...forever.”

Traci agrees. “I don't have a job, I have a lifestyle. I love what I do!” In addition to acting as business manager for The Northeast Golf Company, managing the firm's marketing and communication efforts, and helping to manage McNeil Construction, LLC, which oversees construction of some of their golf course designs, Traci is an independent consultant with Arbonne International, producer of premium, botanically based skin care, cosmetic, and nutrition products. “I love that through Arbonne, I can help people change their lives and achieve their dreams,” she continues.

In it together

Robert chose to study management because he thought it would provide him with all the elements he would need to succeed. “At Bryant, I learned how to work for a large company, pursue a sales career, manage others, and launch my own career,” he says. “Without the confidence and tools garnered at Bryant, I wouldn't have even considered starting my own golf course design services firm.”

Traci adds, “I credit my life today to my tenure at Bryant. My husband and I have been able to create a life most people only dream about, but that Bryant gave us the courage to attain. We work with, and for, each other.”

The McNeils don't stop at working together. They also organize and host an annual golf tournament and dinner dance. “It began eight years ago as a way to bring family and friends together and to honor loved ones who have recently passed,” explains Traci. Today, the McNeil Memorial Friends and Family Tournament is a reunion and a fundraiser. “Over the years, the event has raised more than $50,000 to fund cancer and Alzheimer's research. It's our gift back for all that we've received in our blessed lives.”

~ From Bryant University's Alumni Connections Newsletter, Volume 4, Issue 1, February 2010

About the Northeast Golf Company: The mission of The Northeast Golf Company is to provide clients with the best golf course design service tailored to meet their individual needs. To be the best requires focus on the business objectives of each client by providing a creative and strategic plan that responds to the inherent nature of the land, the players served and the project budget.

Robert McNeil operates as the team leader providing creative direction while bringing together the necessary expertise and overseeing every aspect of a golf course project to ensure that the vision becomes reality.

The McNeil Design Collaborative and McNeil Construction LLC design/build team approach combines years of experience in successful design, construction and project management.

"We take pride in developing relationships that are productive, long lasting and most of all fun, much like the courses we design." Robert McNeil

Contact: Robert McNeil, ASGCA Associate, Principal Golf Course Architect, Northeast Golf Company
(401)-667-4994 in Saunderstown, RI – (732)-747-1888 Red Bank, NJ
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