In this excerpt from C+RB’s special report on management companies, learn how McConnell Golf countered the 2020 pandemic and helped the courses in its portfolio maintain the expected experience as normally as possible. “With courses in different counties and different states, we made sure we were in full compliance with the latest regulations and consistently communicated with our membership and club teams,” says Christian Anastasiadis, McConnell Golf’s Chief Operating Officer.
While providing resources and expertise so their portfolios’ properties could navigate the pandemic, multi-club operators also made moves to prepare for the “new normal” and lent muscle to the country’s larger recovery effort. This special report provides updates on how the year unfolded for several of the leading U.S.-based management companies, focusing on how they marshalled their collective resources to not only support the needs of their properties, but also the larger recovery efforts for the club industry, the regions they operate in, and the country as a whole. The report can be found in its entirety in the latest Club + Resort Business digital issue (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/category/digital-issue/).
Here is the portion of the report dedicated to McConnell Golf:
Raleigh, N.C.-based McConnell Golf now owns or operates 17 courses with 324 holes of golf (2 offer 27 holes). The first course in the McConnell Golf family, Raleigh (N.C.) Country Club, unveiled a $5.5 million restoration of Donald Ross’ last design by Kyle Franz. It also added three new courses, including Porters Neck in Wilmington, N.C. and expanded into Southwest Virginia with The Water’s Edge Country Club and The Westlake public golf course.
While little could be considered “normal” in 2020, McConnell Golf tried to maintain as much normalcy as it could throughout the stages of the COVID-19 pandemic?
“With courses in different counties and different states, we made sure we were in full compliance with the latest regulations and consistently communicated with our membership and club teams,” says Christian Anastasiadis, McConnell Golf’s Chief Operating Officer. “Our goal was to maintain the McConnell Golf club experience as normal as possible.”
The freshly restored Raleigh Country Club, which first opened in 1948, made its debut for member-only play on November 6, 2020.
“We closely followed Kyle Franz’ plan and vision,” says McConnell Golf President & CEO John McConnell. “It’s going to be better than any of us ever anticipated. I’m just amazed at [Franz’] artistic ability and how the course has turned out. RCC greens are well-known as being very demanding and I am highly confident that our reputation will remain in place.”
In 2003, McConnell purchased Raleigh Country Club to help preserve golf’s historic place. The McConnell Golf portfolio includes three other classic Ross designs in addition to Raleigh Country Club—Greensboro’s Sedgefield Country Club, which annually plays host to the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship, Country Club of Asheville and Holston Hills Country Club in Knoxville, Tenn. McConnell Golf is the only individual golf course proprietor in the world that owns four Ross-designed courses.
With the recent addition of Porters Neck Country Club, McConnell Golf boasts three Tom Fazio designs. McConnell Golf’s complete portfolio within the Carolinas and Tennessee includes course designs by legends Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Hale Irwin and Ellis Maples, and now totals 288 golf holes.
The Raleigh Country Club renovation cost was funded entirely by McConnell Golf, making it one of largest recent privately funded investments in East Raleigh. There were no member assessments.
“It’s been neat to see Kyle’s vision take shape,” says McConnell VP of Golf Operations Brian Kittler. “The golf course is definitely going to be a bit more challenging. The fairway corridors are a bit wider; greens are a bit bigger and members will have an opportunity to hit to other pin locations that previously were not available. With all the trees gone, it gives the holes much better views and better pin locations on some holes. It’s got a good vibe going.”
Franz played a key role creating several of the most innovative and acclaimed courses built recently, while also helping enact the restoration plans of several classic courses. That list includes a pair of North Carolina-based Ross designs: the highly profiled restoration of Pinehurst No. 2, where Franz assisted Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw prior to the 2014 U.S. Opens, as well as his 2013 restoration work at Mid Pines Inn & Golf Club.
“Being such a huge Donald Ross fan, for me working on Raleigh Country Club has been an unbelievable opportunity,” Franz said. “Having worked on some of his most personal work in North Carolina, with Pinehurst No. 2, Mid Pines and Pine Needles, RCC is a really great opportunity to make it a legacy project for Ross.”
For McConnell Golf, the focus of the project was to produce an improved course for all levels of players—retaining the integrity of the course that Ross first designed and built, but allowing more challenges for today’s long-hitting players. Among Raleigh Country Club’s numerous enhancements:
- An entirely new irrigation system was installed. New technology is one of the major benefits in improving bunkers and turf conditions, while creating less erosion and eliminating bare spots near the tree lines;
- Green complexes have been enlarged for more pin locations and improved, strategic shot making. On the greens, McConnell Golf elected to use a new variety of bentgrass called Pure Eclipse, which allows improved heat tolerance from older varieties. Raleigh Country Club becomes the first course to seed this grass on all 18 holes anywhere in the region;
- New tee boxes have been constructed on certain holes that have extended the course yardage to nearly 7,400 yards, while also benefiting female, junior and senior golfers. Raleigh Country Club’s rolling hills make the course play even longer;
- New bunkers have been constructed that provide greater visuals and improved play for golfers, as well as much improved drainage with the material used in the traps. “We’ve tried to vary out the scale of the bunkers quite a bit, to where it’s reflective of the best stuff of Ross that I really like here in North Carolina,” Franz says;
- Approximately 500 trees were removed to improve air movement and turf quality.
- The new irrigation system allows for native grasses to be planted during the next few years that will give the course a very dramatic look. Many of the natural drainage areas across fairways have been changed, to help the course better absorb rainfall and create more strategic shot making opportunities; and
- Some of the cart paths were rerouted or removed substantially on certain holes to give the course an even more natural feeling as to how the land lies. McConnell Golf is the first to utilize this new process called soil stabilization.
“A machine tills whatever is existing, be it old path, soil, roots, and incorporates cement and water to create a soil surface,” says McConnell Golf VP of Agronomy Michael Shoun. “The final product is 8 to 10 inches of a soil surface that takes on the natural look of the material tilled. It’s call ‘natural path’—not meant to be a perfectly smooth surface, more like a hard soil path.”
“McConnell Golf is a company that has set its vision on building clubs of the future,” Anastasiadis says. “We see things differently than other clubs or operators, focusing on the little nuances that make a trip to the club memorable for the customer.”
At the start of 2021, C+RB reported that McConnell Golf had purchased a pair of clubs on Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake—The Water’s Edge Country Club in Penhook, Va. and The Westlake in Hardy, Va. McConnell Golf Virginia Club Management, LLC, a McConnell Golf affiliate, will operate both clubs.