The “45-year-old startup” in Boynton Beach, Fla. is now quickly making up for lost time and preparing all parts of its property for a takeoff into an exciting future.
Quail Ridge Country Club was one of the early birds among South Florida golf communities, opening in 1974. But while the Boynton Beach, Fla. property has stayed healthy enough through the years (and actually weathered The Great Recession of 2008 better than many), as it began to approach middle age it was still in a precariously formative state. So much so, in fact, that current Chief Operating Officer/General Manager Bill Langley is not entirely joking when he summarizes Quail Ridge’s history as that of “a 45-year-old startup.”
Few club managers are more qualified than Langley to recognize and understand the characteristics of startup properties, and to know how to get them moving into and through new stages of growth. Before coming to Quail Ridge in 2013, Langley was the Vice President of Clubs for The Woodlands master-planned community in the Houston area, and in that role he directed the development and expansion of several high-end private club communities, including The Club at Carlton Woods.
Upon arriving in Boynton Beach, however, even someone as experienced as Langley was initially given to wonder if Quail Ridge might ever be able to move into the next stage of its lifecycle that it needed to reach to remain viable and relevant. Beyond the barriers formed by a massively cumbersome management and governance structure for both the club and the community’s Property Owners Association (more on that later), Langley found that Quail Ridge had a history of aversion to investment that had “saved the clubhouse for last” on the list of capital improvement priorities for the property.
Langley plunged in to get a master-planning process in motion, and persevered through 17 member focus groups (the first of which left him with a feeling that he had “no shot” at getting anything done). His doggedness eventually led to building up support for at last loosening the club’s grip on its earliest days, as still embodied by its original clubhouse. A proposal for a new two-story building that was “well down the road,” according to Langley, was unbundled into a plan for a single-story, “bat wing” concept that would cover roughly the same amount of square footage (63,000) as the old clubhouse, but with dramatic differences in both style and configuration (only 36,000 sq. ft. of the new version would be enclosed as part of the main clubhouse building, and 14,000 sq. ft. would be open patio areas).
Excitement over the proposed changes eventually built to where 83% of the Quail Ridge membership turned out to deliver an 87% yes vote for the $23 million new clubhouse project, which would involve a member assessment as well as $16 million in borrowing. An elaborate temporary structure, complete with chandelier, was erected to serve the membership during construction—and as perhaps the most telling sign of just how ready the old clubhouse was to go, before it was demolished it was used by local first-responder units as a training site for search-and-rescue exercises (“Practice Makes Perfect,” C&RB, October 2016).
Bringing On the Noise
Quail Ridge’s new “Old Florida”-style clubhouse opened in December 2017 and immediately earned ringing endorsements in a variety of forms. The most notable has been the increased member usage of the new dining facilities that generated a 40% first-year jump in food-and-beverage revenues, followed by another 20% in the new clubhouse’s second season. That has taken the club to $4 million in annual F&B, almost all of which is a la carte, and all of which is achieved without minimums.
The boost in dining activity, which now routinely brings nights of 200 covers and can often soar to 300 or more, has been spurred as much by the enhanced service standards and food quality delivered by the clubhouse and culinary teams led by Director of Club Operations Carl Horace and Executive Chef Reza Adhitiya, as by the added appeal and ambiance of the new indoor and outdoor venues. Both Horace and Adhitiya joined the management team in 2017, bringing experience from Ritz-Carlton and other high-end properties such as The Breakers. Adhitiya also has extensive personal fishing expertise that has helped him develop relationships with other local fisherman, to gain exclusive access to an abundance of fresh catches from the waters, both fresh and ocean, that surround Boynton Beach.
All of this has contributed, Langley says, to create a new scene where “Every day lunch is full, and every night the bar is full. It can actually get a little bit loud now, but I love it, because of the new energy that represents,” he adds. “And I can’t find anyone from that 13% who voted no [for the new clubhouse.]”
The overwhelmingly positive response to the new clubhouse has also fueled a boost in real-estate sales (home sales were up 32% in 2018) and primed the pump for approval of other capital projects. Next up will be a $6 million renovation of Quail Ridge’s South golf course, through a project that will start in April 2019.
A notable aspect of the course renovation, reports Director of Agronomy Joe Ramsey, will be the decision to use Bimini bermudagrass on the fairways and surrounds (Tifeagle bermudagrass will be used on the greens). That will make Quail Ridge the only property on Florida’s East Coast using Bimini, which Ramsay says is denser and stronger and requires half the inputs of other varieties.
“I don’t know of any other club that did the due diligence we did for our grass-selection process,” Ramsey says. “It was truly a group effort by our management team and participating members, where collectively we attended USGA seminars, visited 10 different golf facilities and spoke to 26 golf course superintendents and 20 golf professionals in our search for the correct grass. And it concluded with a unanimous decision to use Bimini.”
Plenty in the Pipeline
The South Course project will also include a new irrigation system for the course, and an additional $2.5 million will be spent to replace irrigation and drainage for the southern part of the community. A similar course renovation is likely to eventually be approved for the North Course, probably after taking a year off once the South Course project is completed.
Planning is also now well underway for expansion and upgrades of Quail Ridge’s Tennis Facility and Spa & Fitness Center. Already, says Director of Spa & Fitness Lisa Haggas, “The excitement from the new clubhouse has carried over into the fitness center and throughout the community.”
The number of residents using the fitness facility has already increased by more than 10 percent, Haggas says. She sees that number doubling after the planned expansion that would increase the size of the Spa & Fitness Center by almost 50 percent, creating more room for classes and to meet other “current trends,” including Pilates, high-intensity interval training, and outdoor exercise and stretching.
Director of Tennis Scott Fleming’s connection to Quail Ridge dates back to its earliest days, through his father, Fred Fleming, who was the club’s tennis pro from 1977-1997. Fleming credits the strong contingent of Canadians among the club’s membership with helping to “save the day” when the recession hit. (Both golf and tennis have spirited annual U.S.-Canada competitions within the club.)
Fleming also cites Quail Ridge’s longstanding connection with the Society of Seniors amateur golf program and its early emphasis on junior programs for both golf and tennis for helping to prepare it for the economic and lifestyle shifts that have affected the club business. And once Quail Ridge was ready to start spending on capital improvements, Fleming adds, Bill Langley was the “perfect fit” to guide the club into and through that stage, because of his similar experience at other properties.
All told, says Langley, as much as another $27 million is now likely to be spent on further improvements at Quail Ridge in the next 10 years. But what may have him most excited is what’s likely to be eliminated ar rhe club. An impending merger of the club and POA operations will streamline an onerous management structure that has been built, Langley says, around “having meetings about meetings to plan meetings,” and that has required him to make the same presentation 24 times in a month to the different condo associations within the community.
Additionally, Quail Ridge is looking at streamlining its membership structure around a “lifecycle” pattern that would make it easier for new members to phase into full membership while at the same time allowing older ones to step down over time—an important consideration for a community that has many seniors.
When and if these changes will occur is still to be determined, but given the pace of new initiatives now being implemented at Quail Ridge, there is every confidence they will happen. And when they do, those are the kind of new “startups” that everyone agrees will seed and ensure the club’s future health and prosperity. “All of the items lined up for the future will continue to make us better as an organization,” says Langley.
AT A GLANCE
Quail Ridge CC
Boynton Beach, Fla.
Clubhouse Size: 36,000 sq. ft., (+ 14,000 sq. ft. patio space and 13,000 sq. ft. cart facility)
Golf Courses: Two 18-hole, South and North; originally designed in 1974 and 1976 by Joe Lee; renovated 2005 by Kipp Schulties
Annual Golf Rounds: 55,000
Members: 972 (780 golf)
COO/General Manager: Bill Langley
Director of Golf: Daniel Brosnihan III
Director of Agronomy: Joe Ramsey
Executive Chef: Reza Adhitiya
Director of Club Operations: Carl Horace
Director of Marketing & Membership: Brian Merbler
Director of Tennis: Scott Fleming
Director of Spa & Fitness: Lisa Haggas
Chief Financial Officer: Andrew Transleau