As the first major phase of the new partnership between The Union League of Philadelphia and the former Torresdale Frankford Country Club, $3 million in improvements to the historic Donald Ross golf course and $4 million in clubhouse improvements have begun, in preparation for a reopening next May. The makeover will appeal to a transition that is turning northeast Philadelphia into the “next Brooklyn,” according to the Union League’s General Manager, Jeff McFadden.
Work has begun to overhaul the former Torresdale Frankford Country Club, an historic property in northeast Philadelphia that is now being revived through a partnership announced earlier this year with The Union League of Philadelphia. (http://clubandresortbusiness.com/2014/01/21/union-league-philadelphia-torresdale-frankford-cc-consider-partnership/).
As part of that arrangement, on July 1st The Union League of Philadelphia took over primary ownership and responsibility for management of the country club, with a new Board formed that includes representation from both memberships.
Torresdale Frankford CC closed October 1 so work could begin to make $3 million in improvements to its historic Donald Ross golf course, along with another $4 million in clubhouse improvements. A reopening is planned for May 2015.
Torresdale Frankford CC was formed through a merger in 1921 that brought together two clubs that traced their roots to 1896 and 1898, when each operated separate nine-hole golf courses. As part of the merger, the club’s 18-hole Donald Ross golf course was opened on a rolling, 200-acre tract of land that has two creeks running through it and occupies the highest points in the city of Philadelphia.
Stephen Kay, ASGCA, an Egg Harbor City, N.J.-based architect, will now direct the restoration of the course, with the assistance of Tim Malone of Guaranteed Landscaping, Inc., Middletown, N.J.
At a media briefing held at the property on September 29, Kay said his goal was to accomplish a “sympathetic restoration” that would recreate a course that Ross would agree was suited for today’s game.
Using aerial photos taken during the early years of the course’s existence, as well as other documents that have been discovered through extensive research, Kay said the project will involve adding about 200 yards in length, to take the par-70 layout to over 6,660 total yards. “But it will feel like a par-72 and play like a 7,000-yard course,” Kay said.
As part of the project, an additional set of tees will be put in, to give the course a total of four sets, and some 275 trees will be removed, Kay noted, to help restore fairway widths to closer to Ross’ original intent and return a greater sense of shotmaking strategy.
There will also be regrassing and extensive bunker work, including the removal of some bunkers that had been added to the original design, and a changeout of bunker sand, to also help restore the course’s original character. Additionally, all of the greens will be enlarged, Kay said, as the restoration “brings back what they lost in shape” over the years.
Annual rounds played at the Torresdale Frankford course peaked between 15,000 and 16,000 in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and have been in the 10,000-11,000 range in recent years, club officials said. Expectations after the restoration, and through greater promotion as part of the partnership with The Union League of Philadelphia, are to restore the level of play to the peak level of the past, and perhaps surpass it.
Even before the restoration, it was noted, the course has stood up well over time, with 64 shot by Sam Snead in 1941 still standing as the course record.
The work on Torresdale Frankford CC’s 38,000-sq. ft. clubhouse will be designed to “restore the grandeur of the 1920s,” said Jeff McFadden, CCM, The Union League of Philadelphia’s General Manager, while also adding new features and amenities that will appeal to current and prospective members. “We never thought of replacing the building,” McFadden said. “We want to embrace and preserve its traditional and historic features, while giving it a proper facelift.”
Planned improvements will include enhancing a back terrace to expand patio dining and creating a new member entrance that will be separate from the entrance used for those attending functions. Emphasis will be put on service and member recognition that will create a “five-star resort” experience, McFadden said.
The first phase of clubhouse facility improvements will be part of a 15-year master plan that also includes enhancements to the property’s pool, fitness center, putting green and off-patio dining, McFadden said. The property also features trap shooting facilities that will be enhanced, and the addition of a golf academy is also envisioned.
The Union League of Philadelphia feels that the Torresdale Frankford property is ideally located to take advantage of a rebirth of the section of Philadelphia that runs along I-95 north of the city and is set to become the “next Brooklyn,” McFadden said. “It’s going to be the hot area for the next 20 to 25 years,” he said.
The Union League of Philadelphia, which recently was named the number-one city club in the U.S. for the second straight year by the Club Leaders Forum and Platinum Clubs of America, also made a successful introduction this summer of a new dining venue in Stone Harbor, N.J., for club members to use while visiting the New Jersey shore.
The creation of The Union League Golf Club of Philadelphia, McFadden said, will build on that success to provide both existing and prospective members with an even broader array of benefits and amenities.