The Ohio-based company that has been assembling a portfolio of properties in the region has purchased the 96-year-old New Castle CC, which has an A.W. Tillinghast-designed golf course, for its debt of about $800,000. The property will be renamed the Avalon Field Club at New Castle and $5 million in upgrades will be made, including creating a new “grand entrance” off a different road, to increase visibility that is now obscured by nearby car dealerships.
New Castle (Pa.) Country Club has been sold, the New Castle News reported. The new owner is Avalon Holdings of Warren, Ohio, which owns three other golf and country clubs in northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania, along with a tennis club and the Avalon Inn & Resort in Howland, Ohio.
Ronald Klingle, CEO of Avalon Holding Co., told the News that New Castle CC “was purchased for its debt, about $800,000.” The paperwork for the sale was completed on May 13.
The club will be renamed the Avalon Field Club at New Castle, Klingle told the News, and Avalon Holdings expects to spend another $5 million on upgrades that will include a ballroom/banquet center that can accommodate 500 guests, a bigger bar, two restaurants, a resort-size swimming pool and a new, grand entrance.
The final design for the planned improvements, Klingle said, will be finished in about a year, and the project will be completed in three to four years. “We’re going to create a whole new world there,” Klingle said.
“This ensures the foreseeable future of the club,” the club’s President. Walter F. Kustra told the News. “[The club] was founded in 1923 and will now remain in perpetuity, and that was the objective of the founders,”
“We had to do it,” added former President Joseph George. “It is what the club needed.”
In July 2018, C+RB reported on how the club, which has a golf course designed by A.W. Tillinghast, was trying to attract new members (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/new-castle-pa-cc-focuses-membership-growth-age-95/).
After Avalon Holdings acquired the “neglected” Avalon Inn in Howland four years ago, the News reported, it has been transformed into the Avalon Inn & Resort. Guests and members at that property now have access to three golf courses, two wellness facilities, multiple restaurants, tennis courts and other amenities. “We haven’t stopped construction or improvements,” Klingle said of that project.
In its January 2019 issue, C+RB featured the design improvements that have been made at several of Avalon’s properties (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/gasser-chair-has-seat-at-the-table-with-avalon-holdings/).
Now, the News reported, Klingle envisions doing the same for New Castle CC. The clubhouse will not be closed during the renovations, Klingle said, and all events and bookings will be honored. But improvements will begin soon.
“We’ll look at the clubhouse and determine what it needs, like improvements to the kitchen and Great Room, adding some equipment for the golf course, and above all a new entrance,” he said.
The club’s current entrance from Route 18, tucked between two car dealerships, is hard to find, so Avalon Holdings is literally planning to take a different approach, Klingle told the News.
“We own some property [that can provide different access to the club property] and we’re planning a grand entrance there—an impressive, gated entrance with two lanes of traffic,” Klingle said. “The existing entrance can be a back-door entrance.
“In one to two years,” he predicted, “we will have taken an almost 100-year-old country club dominated by golf with a little bit of a social aspect [and] 200 to 300 members, and converted it to a facility with a spectacular golf course, a new ballroom, a new resort-size swimming pool, and grow it to 800 to 1,000 members.”
Klingle, noting that the Avalon Inn & Resort now has about 5,000 members, then outlined for the News how he plans to grow membership at New Castle CC.
“First I will cut club dues by one half, making club membership affordable to middle-class families,” he said. Current dues are $150 to $450 per month, depending on the membership level.
“In the past, country clubs were only for the well-to-do,” he noted. “Middle-class families thought they could never afford country club memberships.”
As the son of a middle-class family himself, Klingle added, his own father knew he could not join the country club that was virtually in his neighborhood.
“I’ve had people thank me for creating something that they could enjoy,” he said. “I have created something that all people can want to be a part of. And if you’re well-to-do, you’ll want to be a part of it, too.”
Membership at the Avalon Field Club in New Castle will entitle members to access to any Avalon Holdings property, the News reported. The company’s portfolio now includes the Avalon Golf and Country Club and Avalon Lakes Golf Course in Warren, Ohio; the Avalon at Squaw Creek Golf Course in Vienna, Ohio; Avalon at Buhl Park (formerly the Sharon (Pa.) Country Club) in Hermitage, Pa., along with the former Boardman Tennis Club and fitness centers.
“We’ve grown in the last few years, and [New Castle CC] is the perfect place for an extension,” Klingle said. “It’s a beautiful place [with] an amazing golf course and a great overall facility. I’m excited about what this is going to be.”
The kind of recreational opportunity he will create with the club, Klingle believes, will also draw new business opportunities to the area. “All of this improves the quality of life in the area,” he said.
The News’ report on the sale revealed that the closing of the agreement with Avalon Holdings ended a search and negotiations to find a buyer for New Castle CC that extended for four years, according to George, the club’s former President.
Speaking in his new role as the chairman of the Avalon Option Committee, which was organized to explore the sale of the facility to Avalon Holdings, George told the News that a majority of the club’s 225 shareholders voted on April 30 to sell the club and approve a plan to dissolve the nonprofit corporation that currently runs it. That process should be completed in about three months, said current President Walter F. Kustra.
New Castle CC currently has 330 members, George told the News, but only 225 are shareholders with voting privileges. “They voted overwhelmingly in favor of the sale,” he said.
“This is a good move,” George added. “It will change how things are done. We’ll be part of a larger entity, and members will have access to additional courses. This is the best move for the membership. It’s necessary.”
“We didn’t have to sell,” added Kustra. But the concern, he said, was to keep the club going.
“If we couldn’t have found the perfect match for us, I would have continued to run the club, to pay the bills, to keep up the golf course [and] meet all obligations,” he said. “We were considering lowering annual dues. But [George] headed up negotiations and kept the membership engaged. They were with us every step of the way.
“We all felt this was the right move. There was no split vote,” Kustra added, noting that only one member “was lost” from the time negotiations began and the paperwork for the sale was finally signed.
“We weren’t attracting younger members,” Kustra said in explaining why the current membership persevered in trying to find a buyer. “They were looking for different things, [such as] health facilities [and] casual dining.
“With this partnership, we’ll have that,” he added. “The moment seemed right for us and right for them. They’ve built up the Avalon Inn, so there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t do the same here. [Avalon] make this top notch, right along the lines of Nemacolin [Country Club].
“The club has been around since the 1920s,” Kustra said. “It deserves better. It needs improvements.”
In recent years and with dropping membership, George told the News, the club has had difficulties keeping up the infrastructure. “This will get us back to where we once were,” he said. “A lot of work needs to be done that we have been unable to do in the past 10 to 20 years.”
A primary goal through the negotiations, George added, was to ensure that the club would remain private and that its facilities would be maintained.
“It is important to the members, the Board and committee that the community continue to have a country club of this caliber,” he said. “[Klingle] and his people have integrity. They will see that the club remains for the community. I’m comfortable that we found the right people to take on the responsibility.”
The current and former club President told the News they believe they will now see membership growth at New Castle CC, because the new pricing structure will open up the club “so the average person can belong.”
“[Klingle and Avalon] will be successful,” Kustra said. “The club will be professionally managed, marketed and advertised.”
George added, “Now we’re looking forward to the next chapter,” noting that some of the club’s current members have belonged for decades, with member families that go back through multiple generations,
“It’s bittersweet,” George admitted. “We’re giving up the reins of the club to a new group, but it is the best move.”
No major staffing changes will be made when ownership changes hands, the News reported, with Avalon agreeing to keep all of the club’s current 40 to 50 full- and part-time employees.
Westminster College, which has used New Castle CC as the home course for its golf teams for years, will continue to use the club under the same conditions, the News reported. In addition, the club’s three “honorary members”—PGA Tour veterans Rocco Mediate and Harry Toscano. and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger—will be kept in the fold.
“New Castle Country Club has always been a jewel in the region,” Kustra said. “[Joe George] and I are the ‘end of the line’ [as club presidents], and under our tenures, we have positioned a club that is more than 95 years old to continue for the community. It is important that a city like New Castle have a country club like this that can thrive and be here for generations to come. I’m proud to have been a part of it.”