After years of debate, the members of Navesink CC came to realize they really liked what they already had—they just needed to add more to its existing charm.
Part of the appeal of living in a grand old house is co-existing with its “charm” and recognizing that while there may be a creak here and a leak there, those are acceptable tradeoffs for enjoying the atmosphere of one of those places “they just don’t make like this anymore.”
Club: Navesink Country Club
Location: Middletown, N.J.
Master Planning: Chambers
Architect/Interior Design: Chambers
Contractor: Ehret Construction
Clubhouse Size: 63,000 sq. ft. (expanded existing building from 47,000 sq. ft.)
Project Cost: $10.8 million
Construction Dates: February 2009-May 2010
• Renovation/buildout of existing clubhouse preserved appeal of 100-year-old structure while improving overall functionality and adding new amenities
• Unique hockey/skating rink and adjacent room turned into year-round asset
But there can come a time when “charm” gives way to the threat of real, and expensive, harm—and the history of a structure can become more of a liability for comfortable living, rather than something to love and embrace.
Three years ago, this was proving to be especially true in the case of a nearly 100-year-old, sprawling four-story structure that had become a second home for the 400-plus families holding some level of membership in Navesink Country Club. While the club itself only dates to 1963, its founders created an instant legacy when they carved a golf course out of more than 100 scenic acres amid horse farms in Middletown, N.J., across the Navesink River from the central New Jersey town of Red Bank—and turned a country estate that had been acquired as part of the initial land deal, and sat on a hill with a great view of the river, into Navesink’s first clubhouse.
The house, which dated to 1908, could trace its roots to the family of Abraham Rycken, one of the original Dutch settlers of New York and for whom the infamous Rikers Island (now home to the city’s largest prison complex) is thought to be named. As a private residence, the house boasted no less than twelve master bedrooms, twelve baths, eleven servants’ bedrooms, a squash court, gardener’s cottage, six-car garage with chauffeur’s apartment, horse stable, greenhouse “and other necessary outbuildings,” according to a real estate listing that billed it as “one of New Jersey’s finest estates.”
In a history of Navesink Country Club prepared in 1986, the house was described as “a mix of Italianate, French and Georgian detail: hip roof and dormers, wide bracketed cornices, symmetric stucco facade, and doric-columned portico.
“But [the house spoke] more of an era than an architect,” the history continued. “It had the substantial air of a summer home built to shelter not only the owner’s family and servants, but the support system for house guests.”
|The flexibility of folding doors installed between the club’s new grille room and an expanded event terrace overlooking the golf course has proved to be an especially appreciated feature.
After it was acquired by the founders of Navesink CC, that “substantial air” translated quickly and quite well to turn the old house into an excellent support system for a new and thriving private club. A series of enhancements and expansions were made to provide needed and desired amenities, including the construction of a hockey/skating rink between the golf course and the back of the clubhouse that gave the club a unique appeal and kept it open and active during the winter months.
But over time, the converted summer estate house began to show the strain of hosting year-round activity for so many permanent guests. As early as 1990, serious discussions began, and plans were drawn, to address the rapidly advancing need for the major changes—both physical and functional—that would be required to take the sagging structure, which had now swelled to 47,000 square feet, into the next era of the club’s life.
By 2005, a survey showed things had reached a tipping point, when all of these desired improvements were identified by more than 50% of the membership:
• Outdoor dining with better patio view
• Better screening of trash/delivery area
• Creation of casual mixed grille
• Covered dropoff at clubhouse entrance
• Improved general interior decor
• Upgraded clubhouse entrance
• Improved safety of entrance drive
• Improved handicapped accessibility
|The Navesink management team (from left: Steve Sieg, Director of Golf; Jeff Mellott, CCM, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer; Nick Ventura, Food and Service Manager; and John Murphy, Executive Chef) now have a properly functioning setting for the services they and their staffs provide to club members.
That prompted the club’s leadership to engage Chambers, the Baltimore-based architectural and design firm, to help Navesink finally put into motion, and pursue in earnest, the process that would lead to the right solution for not only properly upgrading its clubhouse, but also positioning the club for its next generations of existence.
By 2007, Chambers had helped the club’s Building Renovation Committee prepare and present three options to the membership:
1) Make the improvements most needed to salvage the club’s infrastructure (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) and address the most glaring aesthetic issues (service delivery appearance, leaks and water damage from the outside terrace, and other exterior improvements), at an estimated cost of $3 million.
2) Undertake a comprehensive renovation and expansion (to 63,000 square feet) of the existing clubhouse that would restore and retain its original charms while adding newly needed functionality and amenities, at an estimated cost of $10 million.
3) Recognize that the grand old house had seen its day and replace it with an all-new, 50,000-sq. ft. clubhouse that would cost between $15-$18 million.
As these options were debated, it became clear that the membership was finally ready to move beyond stop-gap strategies like option 1)—but that the choice between 2) and 3) hinged largely on the question of what should be done with Navesink’s hockey rink.
Some felt the rink’s existing location, and its undesirable appearance when not in use during the summer, stood in the way of building an up-to-date, more functional clubhouse that could offer a better connection with the golf course. But others saw hockey and skating as a special part of Navesink that not only shouldn’t be jeopardized by new construction, but could be enhanced through renovation of the existing structure.
|“We never before had a casual bar or areas for socializing informally,” says Navesink’s GM/COO, Jeff Mellott.
In the end, a key to selling the membership on the second option was a digital photo rendering that showed how the rink could be disassembled (with the boards stored in new space created by the expansion), and how its surface could be covered with a synthetic turf to allow it to blend in and actually enhance the views, especially after new rooms and terraces would bring more clubhouse activities closer to the golf course.
“The membership came to recognize that the rink provides an incredible amenity for their club, and they really didn’t want to risk disrupting what they already had in place,” says Rick Snellinger, President/CEO of Chambers. “[The rink and related winter programs] create offseason energy and revenues that you generally don’t have in the Northeast. They also serve as a valuable member recruitment tool and feeder system that attract people who start as sports members and eventually upgrade to full memberships.
“Relocating or building a new rink, so the clubhouse would be closer to the golf course, wouldn’t have been worth losing those benefits—plus, it would have added another $2 million or so in incremental expenses,” Snellinger notes.
The picture that members saw of how the rink could not only be kept in place, but prettied up for the months when it wasn’t being used, was clearly worth a lot of votes—eventually, 88% of Navesink’s membership approved the option to proceed with a renovation and expansion of their existing clubhouse.
The project was finished this past Memorial Day and a grand “throwback”reopening celebration, featuring menus and prices from Navesink’s original opening in 1963, was held in early June.
Already, while still working through the last items on the project punch list, General Manager & Chief Operating Officer Jeff Mellott, CCM, has seen plenty of evidence to convince him that finding a way to not only preserve, but improve, the structure and activities that have always made Navesink unique was the right way to go.
|A new lower-level covered terrace outside a renovated activities lounge has helped to update the old house and connect it with the club’s golf course and grounds.
“At other clubs I couldn’t drag people in for formal dining, but now that we’re providing a proper venue for it here, covers are up to the point that we’re already thinking about adding more nights for it,” Mellott reports. “On the lower level, the improvements to the room off the hockey rink is already proving to be a fantastic event venue and ‘bonus space’ that we think will be in demand, year-round, for both adult and kids activities.
“We had to address the clubhouse issues to stay competitive,” says Mellott, who came to Navesink in 2007. “We always had great amenities, but just couldn’t provide them in an efficient and functional way.
“Now, the building looks, and works, great—for the staff, and for the members. And what we’ve done to give ourselves new life is also stimulating new-member interest.”