While maintaining the unique spirit and appeal of its classic clubhouse, Mountain Ridge CC in West Caldwell, N.J. has set a steady course for long-range progress, to ensure it stays in step with changing times.
REACHING A 100tH ANNIVERSARY IS a remarkable achievement for any club, and one that should be fully and proudly celebrated. When Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, N.J. achieved that milestone in 2012, the club had special incentive to properly commemorate its past, because its property features a Tudor-style clubhouse, built in 1929, that still stands as one of the most impressive examples of the iconic structures built by famed architect Clifford Wendehack during the golden era of the club industry’s growth.
Mountain Ridge even spent $2.5 million to overhaul the interior of the 15,000-sq. ft. clubhouse (“Delighting in the Details,” C+RB, November 2012) so it would dress up properly for the anniversary celebration. But once the party was over, the club’s leadership knew that what had served Mountain Ridge well for its first 100 years wouldn’t be enough on its own to ensure success for another decade—let alone a century—especially in the highly competitive North Jersey/metropolitan New York City market.
So almost as soon as the champagne glasses had been put away and the confetti had been swept up, thoughts turned to how Mountain Ridge would need to set plans in motion to ensure it could continue to provide its members with relevant, top-quality amenities, and maintain its standing as one of the area’s leading and most respected clubs.
THE THREAT FROM ABOVE
In part, recognizing the need to adopt a longer-range approach stemmed from knowing that even spending $2.5 million had still only be able to primarily help Mountain Ridge once again try to address, as it had through a series of previous projects, the ongoing infrastructure and interior-upgrade needs associated with operating in and maintaining the Windehack clubhouse. As is often the case with such classic structures, a layout that made sense for club life in earlier times was not helping Mountain Ridge serve its current membership’s needs.
“The building was still proving to be too small in the wrong places,” says James Messina, who became Mountain Ridge’s General Manager/COO in 2017. “As a result, we had a lot of utilization issues for the things that were becoming more important for our membership—in particular casual dining, outdoor dining and having adequate bar space for how people now wanted to gather and use the club.”
Another long-standing factor that had to be addressed concerned the proximity of the Mountain Ridge property to a nearby regional airport. For many years, reports John Schupper, a member of Mountain Ridge since 1983 and its President for the past four years, ongoing discussions had been held between the airport authority and the club over the sight lines that needed to be maintained with the trees that formed the border between them. Those discussions intensified as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) instituted new post-9/11 guidelines that mandated lower tree-line restrictions to increase visibility and clear more space around airports.
When it became clear that this issue would also have to be resolved, Schupper says, that was the signal that a more comprehensive and long-range master plan for the entirety of Mountain Ridge’s property and facilities needed to be formulated. For help with that plan, the club turned to Studio JBD/Jefferson Group Architecture, the Pawtucket, R.I. firm that had been contracted, when it was known as Judd Brown Designs, for the interior design aspect of the 2012 project.
THE GREAT REVEAL
As soon as 2018 wound down, implementation of the first phase of that plan began, involving a simultaneous $5 million renovation and repurposing of the Mountain Ridge clubhouse and another $3 million spent for enhancements on and around the club’s historic Donald Ross-designed golf course. Completed in six months, the two projects came together to bring about stunning transformations both inside the clubhouse and out on the course.
A major tree-removal effort, to comply with the need to accommodate the airport and new FAA regulations, meshed perfectly with the changes that created expanded casual and outdoor dining space. Sweeping new vistas from the clubhouse, which sits above the course, were created, with the added attraction, especially for kids, of better views of the small planes going into and out of the airport.
The changes on the golf course also made it possible to create a new golf practice area and range that Schupper calls “world-class,” along with new on-course amenities including hitting bays and the “Tee House,” a new on-course refreshment and relaxation oasis.
For all of the new structures and clubhouse additions involved with the project, care was taken to procure and use materials that stayed true to the history and architectural heritage of Mountain Ridge. Joe Bier, a club member who headed the project committee, as he had also done for the 2012 renovation, led the effort to work with Studio JBD/Jefferson Group and Donnelley Construction to painstakingly source qualified vendors and to ensure proper color-matching and authenticity for the stone, slate, brick and other materials used for new structures or additions that were built as part of the renovation work.
ONLY THE BEGINNING
Members immediately embraced the changes that could be seen throughout the Mountain Ridge property, both inside and out, after the project’s first phase was completed. “They are using all of the new spaces, and then some,” says Messina. “It’s been an eye-opener to see the new patterns of utilization that have been created by having the right type of gathering spots. We never used to see people eating at the bar before, for example.”
Just as importantly, all the work was done with the knowledge that this was indeed just a first phase, because the project had been set in motion through approval of a 15-year capital improvement plan that will also fund future phases, including upgrades to the pool snack bar and locker room, and further improvements to the club’s golf entrance, pro shop and locker rooms.
“Country clubs can’t be in the one-off business when it comes to capital projects,” says Schupper. “There’s always something to be done, especially for a property like ours with older, historic features.
“There was no longer any debate that the airport issue had to be resolved,” Schupper adds. “If we had tried to go into litigation, we would have lost and the FAA could have exercised eminent-domain rights. It was also clear we had to move beyond just always trying to catch up with deferred maintenance on the clubhouse.,
“We now have a plan that won’t lose the benefit of work that’s been done before, and that will tie in everything in a compatible way,” he says. “And people are already seeing how that will make the club stand out for years to come.“
MOUNTAIN RIDGE CC
Location: West Caldwell, N.J.
Clubhouse Size: 15,000 sq. ft.
Renovation Project Cost: $5M for clubhouse, $3M for golf course
Construction Dates: December 2018-May 2019
Master Planning/Architecture/Interior Design: Studio JBD/Jefferson Group Architecture
Construction Management: Donnelly Construction
• First phase of multi-year capital improvement plan expanded and improved member dining and bar areas and expanded outdoor dining.
• Tree removal to comply with new regulations for providing greater visibility for neighboring airport opened up dramatic views from clubhouse and cleared space for new driving range and golf practice areas and facilities.
• Care was taken to source authentic materials for new structures and additions, to ensure compatibility with the club’s historic Clifford Wendehack clubhouse.