The Pennsylvania town known for horse-drawn buggies and shopping outlets now has a new attraction—a 121-year-old club with a classic golf course that has reimagined its facilities and repositioned itself for an exciting new period of growth and distinction.
LOOKING OVER THE LATEST LIST issued by U.S. News & World Report of “Best Places to Retire in the U.S.” doesn’t prompt any eye-rubbing—until you get down to #5. There, under the expected listings of Florida locales such as Sarasota, Naples, Daytona Beach and Melbourne—and ahead of the next three that are also in the Sunshine State (Tampa, Fort Myers and Port St. Lucie)—is Lancaster, Pa.
Yes, Lancaster—with a population of under 60,000 and known to most (even to many from within the state) as just a place to take a weekend drive to go to shopping outlets and open-air markets, share the road with the Amish and Mennonite communities’ horse-drawn buggies, and eat big Pennsylvania Dutch buffet meals.
Its tourist attractions and throwback vibe certainly helped Lancaster earn such a prominent and surprising spot on the list. But the town shouldn’t be typecast as just a place to enjoy quiet golden years, either. And the description accompanying the U.S. News listing made it clear there’s more to what the area has to offer:
“Lancaster, Pennsylvania, offers a balance between natural and commercial spaces that residents appreciate. Expansive farms rub elbows with manicured suburbs, which lead right into the bustling city. Each area boasts its own unique groups of inhabitants: farmers, families, college students and young professionals. From close-knit church communities to the indie coffee-shop scene, Lancaster holds something for everyone.”
Embracing the Change
Lancaster Country Club (LCC), which was founded in 1900 and features an original 18-hole course designed by William Flynn along with the 9-hole Highlands Course designed by Brian Silva in the 1990s, is a 400-plus-acre property with a story that mirrors the town’s traditions, transformation and newfound prominence. For much of its history, the club thrived as the center of Lancaster’s social and recreational fabric. But as with many clubs of its type and age, and especially those in the Northeast that saw major shifts in their economic and demographic bases, it became more difficult over the years to maintain its connections with the community and keep its facilities, and relevance, in step with the times.
The club did draw acclaim when Lancaster CC hosted the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open and drew record attendance, with 135,000 spectators for the week, while also generating renewed interest in the area, and its attractions, as they were shown during the tournament broadcast.
Still, the forces, inside and out, that had been eroding the club’s standing and viability remained at work. And by 2017, when Ryan Granruth, CCM, arrived to be the club’s new General Manager/Chief Operating Officer, the warning signs had become increasingly hard to ignore.
“Our average age was 69, and the next year brought a real low point,” says Granruth, who was taking on his first GM position after assistant GM roles at Baltimore Country Club, Denver Country Club and The Lodge at Ventana Canyon. “We were a very old, traditional club with an identity tied primarily to our rich history and championship golf.
“History and tradition are great, but you can’t hang your hat just on those things,” Granruth adds. “Our facilities were on life support, with $5 to $6 million needed just for infrastructure projects that members wouldn’t even see. And to attract new and younger members, it was clear we needed to become more of a year-round club with a full range of amenities. It was time to get the club going in a new direction.”
Granruth and the LCC Board set to work to fashion a plan for addressing both the pressing issues behind the scenes and for improvements that members, current and potential, could see as immediate enhancements. After an initial proposal only drew support from 57 percent of the membership in May of 2018, everything was “reexamined and repackaged,” Granruth says, and a new plan drew 87% approval a year later.
That put things in motion to schedule the start of construction in March 2020 for what was branded (through a staff-naming contest) as “A Defining Moment” project for the club. But that was the same month, of course, when the entire world would experience a defining moment unlike any seen in over 100 years.
“We were going to start the week that everything in Pennsylvania was shut down [by the onset of the pandemic],” says Granruth. “But given that we then had to issue furlough letters to over 100 people on the staff, we knew it wouldn’t be a good PR move to start spending over $20 million on a new project.
“But at a Board meeting in the summer, we discussed how the nation, community and club were all going to emerge from COVID at some point,” Granruth adds. “When that happened, it would be clear our problems weren’t going away—if anything, they would be amplified. And if 2008 [and the Great Recession] had taught [the club industry] anything, it was that hitting the pause button only made it more difficult to catch up on what’s needed to keep facilities and amenities attractive and relevant.”
So, now already seeing signs of how clubs could be in a good position to attract members and activity as people sought new places for safe recreation and socialization, the Board committed to go ahead with the project, and ground was broken in September 2020.
Once it finally began, “A Defining Moment” was executed with impressive speed and quality, especially given the challenges for procuring products and supplies that the pandemic presented. And at the same time that the decades of neglect for the club’s existing structures was finally addressed, members quickly began to see how a property that had looked and functioned in the same way for years was being dramatically transformed.
This was most evident at the first tee just outside the existing 108-year-old clubhouse, where the original pool had also been positioned. “You had golfers teeing off while kids were doing cannonballs and yelling ‘Marco Polo,’ and shots were getting skulled into the pool,” says Director of Grounds Josh Saunders.
But for the newly defined Lancaster CC, the pool was filled in and replaced with a new 16,000-sq. ft. putting green, surrounded by a firepit and seating area that has quickly become a “packed” spot, Granruth reports, for enjoying cocktails and taking in a greatly enhanced view, thanks to some strategic tree removal.
To provide ample, and more isolated, room for pool fun, the club has taken full advantage of additional space available on its vast property to create an impressive resort-style complex behind an entirely new, 24,000-sq. ft Activities Pavilion that was built behind the existing clubhouse. The Pavilion hosts the new “come as you are” Sunset Bistro that combines casual dining with access to multi-purpose simulators (see photos above). It also includes a dedicated kids’ space with on-site child care, and seating on terraces overlooking the pool complex.
That complex includes features and comforts that rival any to be found at the most exclusive resorts, including a fountain and splash pad, 14 in-water chaise lounges, and 85 seats in all, including some set aside on a terrace for those seeking “peace and quiet.” There is no walk-up window for food-and-beverage services; all orders are taken and delivered by staff equipped with wireless iPads.
“A Defining Moment” also reimagined many other parts of the LCC property—and all that the club could offer—with other new facilities and amenities including a full fitness center (the club previously had no fitness offering at all); a new pro shop that has 50% more floor space and an abundance of natural light (it previously had no windows); and a new paddle hut where members can help themselves to drafts of an exclusive “Defining Moment” IPA that a local brewer provides.
It has all been enthusiastically embraced by existing members—a crowd of 1,700 came for a 4th of July celebration for which Granruth skydived in (see photo below). Equal enthusiasm has come from an influx of new members who have been rapidly lowering the club’s average age and advancing it towards the expectation of reaching capacity by the end of 2021.
The next phase of “A Defining Moment” will address a needed kitchen expansion in the main clubhouse and other areas. But it will be put on hold for a year, to give members a break from, and a chance to fully enjoy, all that‘s been added so far.
After Phase II is completed in 2023, attention will turn to the return of the U.S. Women’s Open to Lancaster CC in 2024, when even more success and acclaim is anticipated that what was seen in 2015.
“[The 2024 tournament] is going to be a showcase for not just Lancaster Country Club, but the entire Lancaster community,” says Granruth. “The pandemic has caused a lot of people to move here from New York and Philadelphia, so there’s a much different feeling to the area now. And we’re excited that the club now checks a lot of new boxes to contribute to that energy, too.”
At a Glance:
Lancaster Country Club
Membership: 400 Regular (Full). 620 Total Members
Golf Course Design: William Flynn (original 18-hole course, consisting of Meadowcreek front nine and Dogwood back nine); Brian Silva (9-hole Highlands Course)
Annual Rounds of Golf: 23,000 (27 holes)
Main Clubhouse: 45,000 sq. ft.
Activities Pavilion: 24,000 sq. ft.
Project Architect: RLPS Architects
General Contractor: Wohlsen Construction
Owner’s Rep.: Fidevia Construction Management
General Manager/COO: Ryan C. Granruth, CCM
Director of Golf: Rick Gibson, PGA
Director of Grounds: Josh Saunders
Director of Racquets: Michael Jordan
Executive Chef: Tanner Seipp
Assistant General Manager: Ryan Huesman
Director of Membership: Meghan Stambaugh
Director of Communications: Rachel Shelley
Fitness & Wellness Specialist: Amanda Boughter
Chief Financial Officer: Dan Garner
Facilities Director: Steve Wettig