(Edgewood Country Club)
The River Vale, N.J. property has nearly doubled its membership under new ownership from Woodmont Properties, which has reemphasized tennis programming and pool amenities as part of creating a more family-oriented, resort-style setting. Another key strategy is converting nine holes of golf to 225 on-site townhomes, to offer a “turnkey living option” that can stem the possible flight of empty-nesters to other locales.
The country club component of the hospitality sector hasn’t completely wilted away, reported ROI-NJ.com, a New Jersey business website. But the idea that the club sector needs to “bring in only the father who wants to play golf and cards on the weekend”—as Eric Witmondt, CEO of Woodmont Properties, put it—has clearly grown old.
On its website, Woodmont describes a portfolio of over $650 million of properties in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, including three country clubs, eight industrial sites, 23 office and retail sites, 18 luxury apartment complexes, and eight luxury home developments.
One of those clubs is Edgewood Country Club in River Vale, N.J., a member-owned club that was on the brink of bankruptcy when acquired by Woodmont.
In addition to developing part of the property by converting nine of the club’s 27 holes of golf to 225 on-site townhomes (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/edgewood-cc-n-j-looks-at-possible-housing-development/), Witmondt told ROI-NJ.com that Edgewood has nearly doubled its membership, from 155 to 300, by shedding its outdated image and introducing new facilities and programming.
“To create a club environment that’s successful, we need to instead focus on the entire family unit,” Witmondt said. “We need to provide amenities that appeal to mom and the kids, so they feel like they’re at a resort—so that it’s somewhere they would like to be.”
At Edgewood, he said, that has been accomplished by steps including activating the facility’s tennis program, investing in a pool and cabanas, and modernizing other aspects of the golf course and property.
The townhouse component of the Edgewood revival plan, Witmondt added, is designed to create a turnkey living option that can build a community around the country club and keep people in the state who would have otherwise moved to Florida or elsewhere. In that way, he believes, the project is one that other clubs can look at and follow, as not only an innovative way to help to preserve a failing club, but also to have a facility that can thrive into the future.
“In general, member-owned clubs are owned by a generation of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s,” Witmondt told ROI-NJ.com. “But those members often aren’t the active users of the clubs themselves. So what happens is those people move to either warmer climates, or you get in a loop where people just utilize it less and in so doing, make it more expensive to operate and attract new members.
“As people start to leave clubs, they go en masse,” Witmondt added. “But when people start seeing their friends joining clubs that are offering something, the same thing happens in reverse. It’s a herd mentality.
“So we built enormous momentum by giving people what they wanted,” he continued. “We had to spend the money based on understanding where the market is today, which was very different from what the current ownership was willing to do.”
Not everyone will always be on board with this approach to changing country clubs, Witmondt acknowledged to ROI-NJ.com.
“On the Boards of these country clubs, it’s all 60- and 70-year-olds who believe they know best,” he said. “But to be successful, we need families and 30- and 40-year-olds. So some of these Boards are out of touch with what younger generations want in the country club, because they have a much different outlook.
“[The right direction is] to provide a new set of improvements and programming to the facilities to accommodate the needs and desires of today’s older empty nesters, as well as the younger demographic,” he added. “It’s important to go this direction for the survival of these facilities.
“There are [still] the premier clubs without a declining membership because they might have a golf course that is a great golf course that everyone wants to play at,” Witmondt acknowledged in assessing the current state of the club market. “Then you have others that are less costly, where you’re going to play golf and go home, that are doing fine.
“It’s the clubs in the middle that are facing a lot of competition,” he said. “What was happening was the cost to maintain the club was increasing, so a member would have to pay more money in dues every year to support its operation. Even as the cost went up, it became less appealing, because membership was declining and less of their friends were there.”