PAOLI, PA.— As it entered 2003 and the ninth year of its 10-year Master Site Plan, Waynesborough Country Club found itself, in the words of its Board President, with “no clubhouse, no golf course, no head golf pro, and no general manager…all things that are kind of basic to running a country club.”
The club had knocked down its charming original clubhouse and taken its George Fazio-designed course out of play. Trailers and tents were parked and pitched all over the property, not only for construction, but also to temporarily house the club offices, kitchen, and pro shop, and even to “host” the few remaining catered events and golf outings that the staff had somehow managed to keep scheduled.
Long-time key staff members, including the head pro and GM, were saying their goodbyes, having been wooed to clubs in Chicago and Arizona. (It wasn’t yet known that, in early 2004, the Clubhouse Manager would also leave, for a general manager’s position at another local club.)
So just who dreamed up this “master plan,” anyway? The ghost of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, the eccentric Revolutionary War hero born and raised on the other side of the split-rail fence that now forms the northern border of the club?
To the uninitiated, there really didn’t seem to be any other plausible explanation.
But there was a clear method to this apparent madness. The first two voids—no clubhouse and no course—were actually in step with what the 10-year plan called for. And the unexpected staff vacancies were met in stride, like every other hurdle—anticipated or not—that Waynesborough had jumped over the previous nine years.
A little more than a year later, Waynesborough had the “basics” back in place again, and the master plan was completed as the 2004 season began. An already excellent course was reopened with significant enhancements and a much-improved outlook for a prolonged, healthy life. A sparkling new clubhouse, designed to offer “separate but equal” appeal for both special events and regular member activities, began to bustle as soon as its two sets of new doors were opened. Experienced and talented people, brought in as the club’s new GM, head pro, and Clubhouse Manager, were already making valuable contributions.
In the best spirit of how “Mad Anthony” made his mark on the battlefield, Waynesborough had followed a strict regimen of precise planning and clear communications (see the “timeline” accompanying this main story), and then executed its plan with equal parts persistence and resiliency. As a result, a club that only four years earlier had been described in Golf Digest as “an obscure layout outside Philadelphia…not as old or praiseworthy as the more-renowned (clubs in the) region,” had staked out a much more prominent position on the map.
Getting Noticed—Inside and Out
Certainly, even during all of the apparent chaos, it’s clear that potential members heard that good things were in the works at Waynesborough. It is currently one of the few Philadelphia-area clubs with an extensive (100-plus) waiting list for golf memberships. At the same time, it is fielding a steady stream of non-golf applications from families drawn to its tennis, swimming, platform/paddle tennis and children’s programs, all of which have contributed to the club’s fast-growing reputation as one of the most family-focused facilities in the area.
The centerpiece of Waynesborough’s renovation—the new, $9.85 million clubhouse—is now booking weddings and other catered events at club-record levels (26 weddings alone are already booked for this year, reports the new Club-house Manager, Rod Clement). At the same time, the club’s new facilities for members—from a plush new bar to two new dining rooms to a wildly popular “sports pub”—are generating unprecedented volumes of “regular” food and beverage revenues.
In particular, alcohol revenues—once pitifully low in comparison with other area clubs, largely because the bar in the old clubhouse was on a different floor than the dining room—are now “equivalent or better” to comparable clubs along Philadelphia’s affluent suburban “Main Line,” says Clement. “And our wine distributor says we’re now his number-one club customer,” he adds.
The Silent Sale
The rapid ramp-up of bookings in the new clubhouse is due largely to the instant appeal that it now creates, both outside and in, among prospective event customers, says Clement.
“Now, when people drive up, we’ve won half the battle before they even walk in the building,” he says. “The prospective bride can easily imagine how she’s going to look outside the front entrance, getting into her limo.”
Once inside, the views from the various dining areas, and the possibilities offered by the wider variety of available rooms and settings, are pretty much enough to seal the deal without a word being spoken, Clement adds.
“We can now seat 200 people outside; before, we could only seat in the 80s,” he reports. “And customers like it when we show them how easily we can switch venues during the same outing or event—maybe lunch outside in a casual setting, then a more formal dinner inside.”
Another huge selling point is how the new building was designed to partition events from members’ daily dining activities, with two distinct entrances and sections. “It’s so important to have the segmentation,” says Clement. “Now we have two completely separate entrances with equal appeal. Each side—member dining and weddings or events—gets equally interesting views from the rooms they’re in. But you don’t have the other groups walk through and invade your space. We can do a wedding of 250 people and still have a full a la carte dining room at the same time, with no conflicts…they can’t even see each other.”
Leaving a Better Taste All Around
Executive Chef Scott Passaretti has a good perspective for comparing the old and new clubhouse settings, having come to the club a year before the old one was demolished. “There were rooms (in the old building), like the upstairs bar, that were actually quite sharp in an ‘old-school’ way,” he says. “But there was just a ‘Sixties’ look and feel that set kind of a tired tone to everything, and I think that filtered down to how people reacted to every part of the dining experience. And certainly, having a bar upstairs and away from the dining room, no matter how nice it was, wasn’t conducive to good sales.
“The architects did an awesome job with the new building,” Passaretti says. “The offset levels are great. You can look out from any seat in any dining room, on either level, and have a great view. Everything was well thought-out. The members are now fighting to get out on the terrace in the good weather.”
Operationally, Passaretti says, the new clubhouse’s centrally located kitchen allows him to better “orchestrate” cooking and serving operations, because he can check in on banquets and a la carte dining simultaneously, without having to run up and down steps. “The new building has raised the bar for all of us,” he says. “And even though what we’re serving isn’t really all that different, I think the better ambience is getting
more people to tell me that they like the food and the whole experience. And when we introduce new menu items, it seems to be making it easier for members to try and accept them.”
Clubhouse Manager Clement defines the new atmosphere as “not just a new clubhouse…it’s a new Waynesborough,” he says. “We can now offer a full page of chef’s feature menu additions each night, more kinds of fresh fish, more things that help us offer a premiere restaurant experience that ranks with the best the Main Line has to offer.”
Clement now often finds himself also serving as a tour guide for representatives of other Philadelphia-area clubs—including some of those “more-renowned” ones. These visitors are hearing from their own memberships that Waynesborough is a must-see showcase for the type of new facilities they’re being pushed to build at their own clubs.
Clement says he’s happy to find the time to show his area club counterparts what Waynesborough now has to offer, and not only because he’s proud of the new building.
“I want them to see that they can make a project like this happen, too, no matter how difficult it may seem to get it done,” he says. “We (clubs) are all in this together when competing (against non-club catering facilities and halls) for weddings, banquets and events. In a private business where we can’t advertise and word-of-mouth is so critical, one bad club experience at any of our places can ruin it for all of us.
“Plus, when other clubs get an inquiry for dates where they’re already booked, I want them to be able to confidently recommend us,” Clement says. “And when we can’t accommodate someone, I’m glad to do the same for them—especially if I know they have the same kind of facility.”
Back in the Swing
Outside the clubhouse, Waynesborough’s golfers are getting ready for their second season on a course that has been completely regrassed with 100% bentgrass and now features, thanks to the Master Site Plan, two completely new greens, a third with a changed complex, a revamped driving range, and pruning work on many of the club’s older trees.
As word about the reopened course spreads, reports new General Manager Jack Molinaro, bookings for golf outings are quickly climbing back to pre-closing levels. Overall, says the club’s new head golf pro, Jeff Lyon, about 20,000 rounds should be played at Waynesborough this season—about the same level as 2001, the last full season before the course was closed. Holding rounds at a stable number “is actually pretty good in this day and age,” Lyon feels, “because that means we’re still getting new members out.”
Course Superintendent Mitch Trent—the “grizzled veteran” of the management team, as the only one at the club for the duration of the 10-year plan—doesn’t characterize the changes made to the course as “radical.” But Trent is glad the decision was made to shut down completely.
“When I first got here ten years ago, we renovated one hole and took it completely out of character with the rest of the course,” says Trent. “Of course, some people didn’t understand why we had to close the course at all. We explained that we want to take things to the next level, and by converting to 100% bentgrass, we’ve been able to eliminate a lot of the disease pressure and threat of large-scale turf loss. Now that we’ve reopened it’s going to be 100 percent consistent and in a shape we can maintain for a long time to come.”
In the new clubhouse’s pro shop, Lyon is already seeing a boost from the renovation effort, even though the new shop’s square-footage isn’t significantly greater than what existed before. “The layout and ‘displayability’ is a lot better,” he says. “That helps us let people see the hot new products, like hybrid clubs and mock golf shirts, in a nicer shopping atmosphere.
“We expect our golf shop revenues to be up this year and probably back to the levels we had in 2002, prior to the shutdown,” Lyon says. “Since we had a tournament at the club that year, if we can meet or improve those levels this year, I think we’ll really be ahead. And I expect the trend for golf shop sales to continue to improve.”
Now that it’s finally made it to the end of its master plan, where does Waynesborough go from here? While there is an 18-month “moratorium” on change (see the timeline’s final entry), the club doesn’t plan to bring all activity to a screeching halt. A complete refurbishing of its tennis courts is planned for 2005-06, and the club is also interested in looking at how to tap Molinaro’s expertise to establish a profitable fitness center, such as the one he directed while GM of the Baltimore (Md.) Country Club.
There’s also interest in going beyond the driving range improvements implemented as part of the master plan, and expanding the golf practice area with short-game facilities. “That’s become the ‘in thing’ in this area and is now big business with many courses,” says Lyon. “We certainly might want to look at how we could take our practice facilities to that next level.”
When it’s ready to make any of these additional moves, there should no longer be any doubts about Waynesborough’s ability to follow through. Already, the club’s new profile has prompted notification from major tour sponsors that it is being considered as a site for future PGA events.
(Waynesborough hosted Pennsylvania Classic tournaments in 2000 and 2002, before any master plan benefits came on stream, and received high marks for its course and hosting abilities. But its sponsor, SEI Investments, was outbid by 84 Lumber and Nemacolin CC, and the tournament moved to the western end of the state.)
Its full makeover since hosting those large tournaments should only serve to present Waynesborough in a much stronger light, feels Mitch Trent. “The golf course was in very good condition when we had the tournaments, and it’s even better now,” he says. “But the clubhouse was a pretty glaring weakness.”
Clubhouse Manager Rod Clement puts the difference this way: “We feel that we’ve gone from a great but relatively unknown golf course that also had a club, to a great club that has a premier golf course. And we’re not close to being done yet.”
The Ten-Year Timeline
Over a ten-year period that brought significant change not only in the makeup of its operational team, but upheaval in the golf and club business (and general economy) as well, the glue that held Waynesborough’s renovation together was how its Master Site Plan was conceived, communicated and implemented. Here’s a timeline of the most important steps:
Years 1 through 5:
Setting a Bigger Stage
From its opening in 1965, Waynesborough was saddled with a charming, but dysfunctional, clubhouse. Even after several renovation attempts, the building remained at the core of “an overall infrastructure nightmare” that was hampering efficient and cost-effective operations throughout the club, according to current Board President John Snyder.
To identify lasting solutions to its problems, the Waynesborough Board created a Long-Range Planning committee in 1994. From the start, it was tacitly understood that t
he ultimate goal of this committee (later renamed the Facilities Development Committee) would be to build a new clubhouse that could serve as a more efficient center of activity for the entire club.
But for the first five years of its work, the committee didn’t do any specific planning of the clubhouse building itself. Rather, through a Master Site Plan subcommittee that worked with an outside consultant, a strategic look was taken at all aspects of club activity and operations—from paddle tennis huts to the parking lot to golf course irrigation. Meetings were held regularly during this process so that members could hear about, and offer input to, what the master plan would include.
In 1999, a Master Site Plan proposal that included funding for a new clubhouse and outlined financing options and alternatives was presented to the Waynesborough membership. The members granted conditional approval, subject to having the final plans for the clubhouse presented for another vote (which occurred in 2002). But it was only after this initial approval that the process began to shape the design and functionality of a new clubhouse.
Years 6 through 7:
An outside consultant was commissioned to survey members, so their preferences and concerns could be quantified and prioritized to help direct the design and construction of the new facility.
Even at this point, the membership was given an opportunity to redirect the scope of the master plan. The survey began by asking respondents to indicate their level of agreement, from strongly agree to strongly disagree, with three statements:
♦ Overall, I am pleased with the clubhouse.
♦ Waynesborough should strive to maintain a reputation as being a premier club.
♦ Waynesborough should strive to maintain its atmosphere as a family club with premier facilities.
The survey then asked over 130 multiple-choice questions—covering everything from a separate building for the pro shop, to teleconferencing and multimedia rooms, to personal trainers and massage therapists—to get more details on members’ current use of, satisfaction with, and the value they attached to every aspect of club facilities and activities. Finally, respondents were given an opportunity to make open-ended “additional comments about the club.”
(For details on the survey questions and responses, go to www.club andresortbusiness.com and click on Club Features at the top of the page.)
The survey generated nearly 800 valid responses, representing a 62% response rate (each family member was instructed to complete a separate questionnaire). In addition to providing overwhelming confirmation that members wanted Waynesborough to remain a family club with premier facilities (with 95% agreeing strongly or somewhat) and strive to maintain a reputation as a premier club (90%), over 55% expressed dissatisfaction with the existing clubhouse.
Most importantly, the survey yielded solid insights to member preferences (see next “Timeline” entry) about every aspect of club facilities and operations, including a sizable sampling of open-ended comments that revealed strong sentiments about the need to improve food quality, remain a family-oriented club, and keep a traditional look to a new clubhouse.
Year 8 (first half):
As the clubhouse project moved ahead to include an architect and designer, these preferences for the most desired features of the new clubhouses were drawn from the member survey and relied on for guidance through a series of “bubble diagram” and schematic design revisions:
♦ Separate entrances and traffic flow for members and functions
♦ Better golf views from dining areas
♦ Enhanced member bar and lounge
♦ Family-friendly and adult-only dining rooms
♦ All-weather patio eating area
♦ Pro shop in clubhouse
♦ Larger women’s locker room with lounge, dressing areas, walk-in closets
♦ Food and beverage services in lounges of locker rooms
♦ “19th Hole” sports pub
♦ Parking expansion
♦ Enhanced lobby
♦ Relocation of carts/caddies away from clubhouse
Year 8 (second half): Straight Answers to Tough Questions
When presenting its new clubhouse plan to members for formal consideration and vote at the end of 2002, the Waynesborough Facilities Develop-ment Committee went beyond the usual handout materials (floor plans, artists’ renderings and descriptions, construction schedules and budgets). It also included a “Questions & Answers” sheet, with straightforward responses to these issues that
it knew members would raise (for
details on the answers provided, go to www.clubandresortbusiness.com and click on Club Features):
• How will the new clubhouse impact our dues?
• What will operate during construction, and how will we access the golf course, pool, and tennis facilities?
• What is our confidence in the capital budget??How will overruns be avoided?
• How much of the capital cost is due to non-member functions?
• How is parking being improved?
• Will dues be reduced when debt is retired?
• Do members have options in how they pay for the clubhouse?
• Was consideration given to an exercise facility?
• Why do we need to increase the number of dining areas?
Years 9, 10…and Beyond: Advice From Those Who Lived It
During construction and the final push to an opening, and then the first months of operating in their new building, the people most closely involved with the project say they learned these valuable lessons:
• Tap members’ expertise…to a point: Members who run construction and commercial real estate businesses played active and invaluable roles on the Facilities Development Committee, the Waynesborough managers say. “They not only asked the right questions in the contractor meetings, but also the subcontractor meetings, which is where you can really drill down to find out where the problems are,” says GM Jack Molinaro. At the same time, there are times when the people who will work in the building need to assert themselves. “Architects don’t cook, and lawyers don’t know how to set up for a banquet,” notes Clubhouse Manager Rod Clement. “You can’t be afraid to remind everyone that it has to be functional as well as beautiful.”
• Keep no secrets: The club Board’s consistent efforts to update members was the most common reason cited for why the Waynesborough project was successfully completed. Just as importantly, nothing was sugar-coated, and members were given ample midstream opportunities to reshape the direction and scope of the project. “You can’t overdo the communication,” sums up Course Superintendent Mitch Trent.
• Be ready to build it yourself: Chef Scott Passaretti drilled holes in the wall to get kitchen equipment installed on time, and GM Jack Molinaro paid a plumber $20 to borrow a drill, because the cable television guy forgot to bring one. “Remem-ber that the onus will be on you to either do a lot of the work yourself, or find ways to get it done, if you want the project to stay anything close to on time or on budget,” says Passaretti. “We’re from the service industry, so it’s normal for us to bend over backwards, if that’s what it takes. Construction workers aren’t like that.”
• Find those who’ve been there/done that: “Call your counterparts at other area clubs who have undergone similar projects, and have them walk you through what they did,” advises Molinaro. “That helped us avoid a critical last-minute mistake on what finish to put on our lockers.”
• Resist the last-minute rush: With everyone at Waynesborough understandably eager to get the new clubhouse open as soon as possible into the 2004 season, a wedding was booked for June 15 because it seemed “possible” the building could be ready in time. The wedding came off OK, but having an inflexible deadline, versus what Molinaro calls a “soft opening to work out the kinks,” took its toll, staff members say. “Yes, there’s financial pressure to get open, but when you’re dealing with a building this size, you can’t rush it,” says Trent. “You end up putting on temporary band-aids.”
• Once it’s open, let it breathe: From the moment the new clubhouse doors opened, every club committee, and many individual members, had ideas for possible adjustments and enhancements. Anticipating this, the Waynesborough Board passed a motion for an 18-month “moratorium” on any proposed design or program changes, until enough real-time experience could be gathered on how the new clubhouse was being used.