After recovering from a devastating fire in record time, Bogey Hills CC is already posting big new scores.
After the spectacular fire that destroyed the three-story wooden clubhouse of Bogey Hills Country Club in St. Charles, Mo. in February 2017 (flames from the blaze reached as high as 50 feet, and more than 50 firefighters from four departments were needed to put out the inferno), reports on how it started were finally made available earlier this year, after an intensive investigation that included the Missouri state fire marshal’s office, because of the size of the loss.
But by the time the final reports came out, Angel Walters Likens—Bogey Hills’ President and General Manager, and part of the third generation of the Walters family to be involved with running the club since 1962—had no inclination for spending much time going through them. In part this was because she already knew that the likely cause was an electrical malfunction. But the bigger reason was that from the moment they first stood and watched the building burn on that cold February night, Walters Likens and others from the Bogey Hills membership, Board and staff had shown that they would be much more concerned about the effect of the fire than with its cause.
In May of this year, Bogey Hills unveiled the physical evidence of that effect, with the grand opening of its new clubhouse (see photo above, and on cover). And through the first season of its renewed operation, the positive effects of the for-profit club’s determination to quickly turn the shock of the fire into a successful rebirth have already been demonstrated through not only a rapid return to lively activity levels, but also strong membership gains and bookings for future business.
“It was hard, and surreal at first,” says Walters Likens. “I grew up with the club, as did a lot of our members, so there was a lot of disbelief that it was all happening and that the clubhouse could actually be gone, just like that.”
But that initial reaction, she adds, was almost immediately replaced by the realization that losing the clubhouse did not mean losing the club—and that in fact the fire offered an opportunity to start an exciting new chapter for Bogey Hills.
“We got excited right away about the idea of turning a new leaf and replacing the clubhouse with something that would be bigger and better,” Walters Likens says. “We saw this as a great chance to not only provide beautiful new settings and exciting new amenities for our existing members who had been so loyal and part of our family through the years, but also to help attract new members from younger generations and also boost our business for weddings and corporate outings, which are important for the financial health of the club.”
Rooms for Improvements
|AT A GLANCE
Bogey Hills Country Club
St. Charles, Mo.
Members: 410 total, 290 golf
Clubhouse Size: 47,000 sq. ft.
Annual Golf Rounds: 16,000
Head Teaching Professional/Vice-President:
Head Greens Superintendent: Chad Fetter, GCSAA
Head Golf Professional: Neely Robertson, PGA
Executive Chef: Jay Witte
Clubhouse Manager: Chris Tsevis
Director of Membership & Marketing: Heather Schadt
Bogey Hills CC was founded by Charles H. “Doc” Walters, an optometrist, and his wife Doris (who came up with the club name, after asking her husband what his usual golf score was) in 1962, on the site of an older golf course that had been closed since World War II and that dated back to a Wayne Clark design in the early 1900s.
Under the Walters’ family ownership, Bogey Hills expanded from a nine-hole operation to 18 holes in 1972. It became a private club in 1980 and hosted the largest non-PGA golf tournament in the U.S., the Bogey Hills Invitational, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, which attracted both up-and-coming and established players, including Bob Goalby, Lee Elder, John Daly, Jay Haas and Payne Stewart.
Under the subsequent management of first Doc and Doris’ son Dennis (who also founded Walters Golf Management, which grew to have over a dozen properties in its operating portfolio before being sold in 2008), and then grandchildren Angel Walters Likens and Dennis Walters, Jr., Bogey Hils grew into a vibrant operation with more than 350 members and an extremely active wedding and events calendar (just three days after the clubhouse fire, the general manager of a neighboring club told a local TV station that he had already received calls from at least 70 couples seeking new sites for their weddings that had been scheduled for Bogey Hills).
Given such a longstanding family tradition in operating the club and with so much embedded management expertise, it wasn’t surprising that the Bogey Hills ownership and membership wasted little time rallying to start the club’s recovery from the fire and announcing plans to rebuild. The good news was that the golf course remained in good shape and could be reopened within a week, allowing the club to focus on what it wanted to do when replacing the clubhouse.
The old clubhouse was 35,000 sq. ft.—but management decided it would be worth the additional investment that might have to be made, above the replacement cost for what had burned down and would be covered by insurance, to expand by another 11,000 sq. ft. With the extra space, a number of new operational needs and amenities could be accommodated, to help Bogey Hills provide a better fit with both present and future memberships.
The wish list for those additional capabilities and services included:
• a larger ballroom and special suites for both bridal and groom parties, to add new capacity and value to Bogey Hills’ already previously well-established wedding business;
• a Kids Club space that would help existing members be able to use the club more while their children were occupied and attended (on weekends), while also serving as an amenity that could help to attract new younger families into the membership;
• added casual dining options, including more outdoor space;
• an area for a golf simulator, to enhance Bogey Hills’ golf instruction and clubfitting programs and also provide an indoor hitting option and a new activity through simulator league play.
From the groundbreaking for the new building in Augut 2017 to the grand opening nine months later, the Bogey Hills management and membership team involved with creating the new clubhouse saw to it that all of those new “to do” boxes were checked off. And when the doors were opened, both the current membership and outside world quickly took notice that much more than just another 11,000 sq. ft. of space had been added.
For the existing membership, one of the most welcomed additions was the Bogey Bistro on the new clubhouse’s lower level. While options were also restored, and enhanced, for the casual dining in the Lounge and the more formal dining in the Bogey Room that had previously existed on the main level, the new Bistro offered special appeal because of its proximity on the same lower level to not only the new Kids Club and new simulator room, but also for its easy access to outdoor seating and new firepits near the club’s signature waterfall feature around the the 18th green.
Upstairs, the clubhouse now also features an expanded, 4,800-sq. ft. Grand Ballroom that can seat up to 700 people in a theater-style setting and 375 when seated at rounds. The Ballroom is flanked by adjoining meeting rooms, the Country Club Room and the Fairway Room, each with 85-inch flatscreen TVs. Air walls can be opened to combine the two adjoining rooms, and accordion doors can be pulled back to combine them with the Grand Ballroom and accommodate up to 900 people in theater seating or over 500 at rounds. Even more space is accessible through doors that open through a “wall of windows” and lead to a covered, 1,000-sq. ft. outdoor deck overlooking the golf course.
Two smaller rooms that have gained immediate attention and acclaim on the first level of the new Bogey Hills clubhouse are the bridal and groom suites. As might be expected from how many weddings had to be rebooked after the fire, it didn’t take long for the club to fill up its schedule again, once the word was out that it would have a new facility open for business.
The golf course and its waterfall feature had always been a strong attraction as a wedding backdrop, and thoughtful comforts were put into the new bride and groom areas, with touches that include long mirrors, a makeup counter, a closet for dresses, and beverage service and TVs (especially appreciated by the men, who also have been known to take advantage of the simulator downstairs while hanging out and waiting for the wedding to begin).
By this fall, Walters Likens reports, Bogey Hills was back in the wedding game full-bore, with weekends already filling up again for 2019 and 2020. “We’ll do three in a weekend if we can,” she says. “It’s our bread and butter, and the one-stop shopping we can provide is giving us a real edge again [in securing wedding bookings], along with the appeal of the new building and our property.”
Because of the added capacity that Bogey Hills now has, she adds, it is in better position to compete with the local convention center and the nearby Ameristar Casino for larger weddings and events, in addition to clubs and other options.
Through its high volume of weddings and other event and outing business, Bogey Hills earned 70% of its food-and-beverage revenues from the banquet side prior to its clubhouse fire, Walters Likens says. But even though the club expects to now have its wedding and catering numbers soar past pre-fire levels, the early returns after the new clubhouse opened have indicated that the banquet/a la carte mix will now actually shift closer to 60-40, in large part because of the greater appeal of dining and drinking at the club and enjoying the clubhouse’s new venues and amenities.
In the new building’s first few months, Walters Likens reports, a la carte business has doubled from its previous levels, primarily because “members are just coming out and utilizing the club more.”Another big contributing factor to the increased volume, though, is that there are more members who can now come out. The appeal of the new building and publicity surrounding Bogey Hills’ comeback combined with special membership promotions to bring in over 60 new members in 2018, according to Director of Membership & Marketing Heather Schadt. The additions were evenly divided among the club’s golf and social categories and boosted total membership past 400. (Bogey Hills does not have a defined membership cap, but Walters Likens says the club will take care to not grow to a point that overcrowds tee sheets.)
All told, Walters Likens reports, F&B revenues are now on a pace to hit $3 million annually—a remarkably high percentage of total revenues ($5 million) for a club of its size (the club does impose food minimums). Sales are also up “significantly” in the new Bogey Hills pro shop, she adds, which is “not even comparable” to what existed in the old clubhouse because of the new merchandising fixtures and variety of items offered, particularly through a new emphasis on “trendy but appropriate” ladies apparel.
The club also stays “small and mighty” (a favorite phrase of Walters Likens) by knowing its limitations and providing other amenities and services through outsourcing arrangements. Bogey Hills’ fitness programming is arranged through a partnership with a local company, Emerge Fitness Training. For its summer camps, it has partnered with a national company specializing in club programs.
“We’ve had a really good response to the our [fitness and camp] programs, and it’s helped us focus on what we do best by having the partnerships for those parts of our operation,” says Walters Likens. “It’s also more cost-effective.”
A New Identity
The start of the new chapter in Bogey Hills’ history is also proving to be timely for how it coincides with a revival of St. Charles, which had pretty much been considered just an outlying suburb of St. Louis for many years. But now, like many older settlements that first existed on their own without a connection to a larger city, St. Charles—a Missouri River town that was founded in 1769 and is the state’s third-oldest city—is developing its own identity and taking steps to maximize the appeal of its historic charm.
Like similar towns around the country, St. Charles is also benefitting from the appeal of lower living costs, reduced traffic and crime, and younger demographics and less-stressed school systems. Renewed interest in the area has boosted the population of St. Charles to close to 70,000, now ranking it as Missouri’s ninth-largest city and one of its fastest-growing.
Its convenient location (Interstate 70 runs through it) and other appealing qualities have attracted new medical- and tech-related businesses to St. Charles in recent years, in addition to the Ameristar Casino Resort Spa, which now qualifies as the city’s largest employer. All of this has spawned the promise of more growth, and Walters Likens now has her eye on the potential for new membership that could come from a new development just across the highway from Bogey Hills CC that will add 280 homes to the area.
Being positioned as the centerpiece of an up-and-coming community like St. Charles, vs. being seen as another St. Louis-area club in a market that has many formidable and well-established competitors, would seem to be something that would serve a smaller club like Bogey Hills well. But the response from both current and prospective members to what has risen from the rubble has the club’s staff brimming with confidence that it doesn’t have to take a back seat to any property in the area.
“I’m biased, of course, but I don’t think our new clubhouse compares [unfavorably] now to any club in the St. Louis metro area,” says Walters Likens. “It’s a one-of-a-kind building that’s absolutely beautiful inside.” And indeed, in addition to hosting many managers from other area clubs for seminars where Walter Likens has shared the insights she gained from the experience of the fire on disaster preparedness and recovery (see box, pg. 20), representatives of some of St. Louis’ most traditional private clubs have now also recently toured the new Bogey Hills clubhouse, to get a first-hand look at how it embodies features and amenities that speak to the future of the club business.
“We are very thankful to our members who have stayed with us during this tough time,” Walters Likens said when first announcing plans for what would be the first total rebuild of a club in St. Louis area in 20 years. “We’re going to make it bigger and better, and build something everyone will be proud of.”
And that certainly proved to be the fire-related “cause” that mattered most.
Learning from Experience
While clubhouse fires are not the common occurrence they were 100 years ago, when they happen today the consequences can be far more devastating, and the recovery process far more complicated. So it’s no surprise that many other club managers have been eager to learn all they can from how Bogey Hills bounced back so quickly from its fire. And while Angel Walters Likens has been busy rebuilding her club, she’s also been generous in taking time to share what’s she learned about the process with her colleagues.
Here are some of the key points that Walters Likens conveyed in one seminar for St. Louis-area club managers that was held at Bogey Hills; for a more detailed look at her tips for effective Disaster Preparedness and Recovery, see the online version of this article at www.clubandresortbusiness.com
What to Do Immediately
• Begin retrieval of information on Cloud, appoint one person as main contact, and designate a team to focus on “all things insurance,” so your focus (as primary manager) will be on the rebuild and on resuming operations. It is very useful to make sure someone with accounting expertise is on this team.
Beginning the Insurance Claim Process
• Begin to identify your “buckets” (including buildings, extra expense, business personal property, personal property of members and staff, business interruption, etc.)
Understand What Replacement Cost Means
• Insurance is obligated to replace the damaged/destroyed structure with like kind and quality, up to the policy maximum (if a frame building is destroyed, they will not pay to replace it with a masonry building).
• If it is not your intention to replace a destroyed structure with a similar structure, you can insure it differently.
• If your intention is not to replace the destroyed structure, the maximum that the insurance carrier will pay is the actual cash value, regardless of the replacement cost limit on the policy. Actual cash value closely approximates market value.
• If your intention is to replace the building, be diligent in assuring the limit on the policy reflects the true replacement cost value.
• Building costs have skyrocketed—if you do not know the replacement cost value of your property, hire a replacement cost appraiser.
• Most insurance policies include “coverage enhancements” that afford additional buckets of coverage above and beyond the limit on your policy.
Business Personal Property
• Take video of what is in your building in every room; don’t rely on accounting records—most items have been depreciated, but are still in the building. Also, many items may have been expenses, vs. capitalized—these can still be claimed and covered
• Most policies limit the personal property of members that is in your care, custody and control. Golf bags, for example, may have a specific limit, and there may also be an aggregate limit (maximum that insurance will pay). Assure the limit contemplates a total loss—if you have 300 golf bags in storage and assume $5,000 per bag, the maximum limit should be no less than $1,500,000.
Business Interruption (BI)
• This is the least straightforward coverage and there is much room for difference of opinion. Know your policy limits of amount and the time period covered—12 months is not enough.
• When working with your claims adjuster to reset member pricing (for existing golf and social dues, locker and other fees, guest green fees and cart rental, new member discounts, and treatment of lost dues from resigning members), be sure to document agreements before announcing any changes to members.
• Prepare your own calculations for what you believe your BI payments should be. Don’t just send your financial statements and rely on whatever the forensic accounting firm hired by the insurance adjuster will recommend—they will offer you much less than what you expected.
• “Projected” revenues [from the adjuster and forensic accountant) will likely seem low vs. your budget—make the case for raising them. “Projected” expenses will likely seem high vs. your budget—make the case for lowering them.
• Manage your ongoing expenses but do not beat yourself or your staff up to lower them; this merely reduces your BI recovery. Make sure to also include BI recovery items that are very valuable to your employees, such as lost commissions and tips, and lost lesson revenues for golf and tennis pros. C&RB