Course upgrades and a brand new clubhouse pay homage of this Cleveland-area club’s distinguished past, while incorporating modern musts for the future.
Westwood Country Club took a big risk at a bad time. And it paid off.
In 2007, Westwood, located in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River, Ohio, faced one of the biggest challenges in its 100-year history. The golf course and clubhouse needed significant improvements and upgrades—but the gathering economic storm clouds that were especially threatening to the Rust Belt region attached clear risks to any major capital-spending initiatives.
After a series of studies and town hall meetings, the club made a bold decision to forge ahead with a $9.5 million project, making major improvements to the golf course in 2008 that included the addition of two natural stone bridges, one water feature, full cart paths, and a new drainage system for the greens. The club also decided to tear down its existing clubhouse, to make way for a brand new, state-of-the-art, Colonial Revival-style building that opened in March 2009.
“Did we make the right decision? Yes. Did we build the right building? Yes. Is the golf course in better shape than ever before? Yes,” says Bill Knoble, a former Club President and third-generation Westwood member.
“Was the timing bad?” Knoble adds. “Absolutely—but in order to take Westwood into the next era, we needed to invest in our facilities. The members knew that, and the members believed in that.”
Coming Up with a Plan
Before the decision to tear down and rebuild, the club’s Board did some extensive research to pinpoint exactly what the membership was looking for. The study revealed a number of desires, with more connected casual dining options, both indoors and out, and the addition of a fitness facility emerging at the top of the wish list.
As a result of the feedback gathered from the study, the Board developed a new master plan, formed a long-range planning committee, and hired a group of architects to explore the options.
The architects did a complete facility assessment that revealed a bevy of issues, ranging from poor layout to aging infrastructure that, if kept, would require significant maintenance.
“The previous clubhouse [which dated back to 1918] was simply worn out,” says General Manager Dan Denihan. “The roof leaked; the electrical and mechanical systems were old and failing. And because there had been so many renovations, fires and additions over the years, the layout was ineffective.”
The club had two options: a renovation that would stabilize the building at a cost of $6.9 million, and a complete rebuild, at a cost of $9.5 million. (Both figures include $850,000 for the golf course upgrades.)
“Stabilizing the building would only improve the infrastructure,” says Denihan. “It wouldn’t solve the layout issues. ”
New construction would alleviate the structural issues and allow the club to incorporate the improvements members had highlighted through the initial survey. A new building would also increase service capabilities and operational efficiencies.
But the price tag wasn’t cheap.
“Members looked at the two options from a long-range perspective,” says Denihan. “By starting from scratch, we would be better positioned for future generations. ”
In April 2007, the membership voted in favor of new construction and full golf members agreed to a $6,000 assessment (lesser assessments were made for other member categories), payable over two years in four installments, with the construction cost balance coming from a mortgage that would be paid down by an annual capital charge.
Some members did leave, notes Denihan. “But with any project of this scale,” he adds, “you’re going to have some attrition, mostly from members who wouldn’t see the benefit over 20 years.”
In October 2007, demolition of the original clubhouse, built 89 years earlier for a whopping $75,000, began.
A Club Without a Clubhouse
Three months before Westwood tore down its existing clubhouse, Denihan was brought in as General Manager. Denihan, who had served in various club management roles in and around Cleveland, was chosen because of his experience with capital projects of all shapes and sizes, as well as his strong leadership abilities.
“Before Dan, the Board had to micromanage the club, because the leadership simply didn’t,” says Bill Kysela, current Club President. “After the previous GM left early in 2007, we hired an interim manager for about six months, and then we found Dan.
“Hiring him was a tremendously good decision on the membership’s part,” Kysela adds. “He’s a real professional who has successfully guided the club through the biggest capital project in our history.”
“My only regret is that I didn’t get here sooner,” says Denihan. “But that’s the only thing I would change about this process. The membership was excellent about listening to the needs of a club from an operational standpoint, and proactive in making sure the building would be efficient for staff and members in the long term.”
Westwood owns two houses at the front of its driveway, one of which was the original clubhouse in 1914. During construction, management set up shop in the smaller of the two houses, and began fostering a new spirit to go along with the new clubhouse.
Without a clubhouse, though, it’s tough to maintain a true club atmosphere. It’s even tougher to bring in new members.
Enter Kim Rubin. Minted as the club’s first-ever Membership & Marketing Director, Rubin had her work cut out for her.
During her first few months on the job, Rubin, who came to the club after serving as Marketing Director for an area mall, cleaned up Westwood’s membership classifications, developed an ever-evolving strategic marketing plan, and built a prospective member database. She even managed to recruit a handful of new members that first year.
And she did it without a clubhouse.
“During the summer of 2008, when we didn’t have a clubhouse, we were still fully operational,” says Rubin. “The pool was open; the course was open; tennis was in full swing. We even constructed a full-service dining room in a tent in the parking lot.
“You can’t just open the door and hope new members will walk in,” Rubin notes. “Clubs have to actively seek new memberships. And the culture of Westwood, even without a clubhouse, was a really attractive one to be a part of. Now, with a clubhouse, there has been an explosion of inquiries.”
If actions speak louder than words, Westwood’s been making a lot of noise. Since January 2010, 30 new members have been added to the roster.
A New Home
In place of the old clubhouse grew a two-story building with a neat, white façade, a dedicated, elegant banquet entrance, and a 38,000 sq. ft. footprint, down from 53,000 sq. ft.
“The building truly fits in seamlessly with its surroundings,” notes Denihan, “It may be smaller, but the improvements are unmistakable.”
The kitchen is now directly in the center of the building, with both a front and back line and plenty of prep and storage space. The food and beverage program was completely overhauled, and a passionate new chef was brought in to run it.
“I was able to make revisions on the blueprints so that the layout of the kitchen better suits our needs,” says Gregory Kapel, Executive Chef, who had previously worked as Executive Chef at Canterbury Golf Club in Cleveland. “Plus, with the kitchen in the center of the building, the servers don’t have to run all over to deliver food. Hot food is served hot and cold food is served cold.”
By centrally locating the kitchen, consolidating where the dining spaces are and adding a separate, dedicated banquet entrance (see photo, pg. 20), Westwood can now service its banquet and meeting spaces—which can be divided to accommodate anywhere between 10 and 330 guests—without any interruption to its a la carte business.
The size and layout of the new kitchen, which houses both new and old equipment, lends itself to Kapel’s newly launched “Chef’s Table” program (see photo), where members are seated at a fully dressed prep table right in the kitchen so they can watch all of the action, live.
“The management team makes sure to make themselves available to members and bring members into all parts of th
e clubhouse,” says Kapel. “The Chef’s Table program gives them the opportunity to see what we do behind the scenes. This is our members’ club, and if they aren’t happy with something, then it’s our job to improve it.”
Distinctive Dining Options
And improve it, they did. Today, Westwood offers a number of distinct dining spaces with menus that speak to fresh, seasonal fare.
The Alison Room—named for C.H. Alison, who designed the golf course—is Westwood’s formal dining area, which is open for lunch and dinner. A variety of seating includes intimate tables for two, comfortable booths and the Signature Table, in the center of the room, with eight tall scroll-back chairs with plush green upholstery. A light, open room with beautiful woodwork, the Alison Room offers an impressive view of the 18th hole.
“The old clubhouse didn’t offer any views whatsoever,” says Denihan, who notes that the new clubhouse was raised two feet to allow for a more picturesque dining scene.
In the old clubhouse, there was also no place for men and women to gather for cocktails. That void has been filled by the newly added Alison Bar, which includes plenty of seating and flat-screen televisions.
Next to the Alison Room is a Family Grill that is more casual, with a variety of table arrangements and comfortable booths suited to diners of all ages.
Downstairs, near the men’s locker room, The Grill is an especially casual dining option that leads out to the Lounge Patio (see photo, above), which includes a fire pit, comfortable patio furniture, and rocking chairs.
Above the Lounge Patio, and just outside the Alison Room, the Dining Terrace, which also overlooks the 18th green, offers members an outdoor dining experience they never had previously.
“With all of these spaces located closer together, we’re able to do much more for our members, both with the menu and with events,” says Denihan.
Bringing the Past into the Future
To maintain continuity from old to new while keeping costs in check, Westwood reused 90% of its existing furnishings and 95% of its wall hangings. Dining tables and chairs were replaced, but lockers, couches, chairs and even a marble fireplace surround were restored and reused. “It helps to set the tone,” says Denihan. “Members recognize these pieces, and it helps make it feel more like their club.”
While the pool area, golf pro shop, tennis courts and cart facilities weren’t affected by the clubhouse rebuild, a handful of other amenities were added.
“The most significant addition to the clubhouse has been the 1,500-sq. ft. fitness center [see photo, opposite] that includes state-of-the art cardio machines and strength-training stations,” says Denihan. “The clubhouse is also fully wired, there is a Board room for private meetings, and a wine tasting room that doubles as a wine cellar.”
Outside, new lightposts line the long slender driveway that rolls out from the clubhouse. “There used to be all these spaghetti wires,” says Denihan. “We reconstructed the drive to trench deep underground, for a cleaner look.”
Staying the Course
Westwood remains renowned for its beautiful yet challenging golf course that still retains much of the historic charm from its redesign in 1924 by C.H. Alison. The club also offers ample practice areas, with a driving range offering target greens up to 280 yards, plus three putting greens and two short-game practice areas.
“It’s always been a good course,” says David Webner, Greens Superintendent. “But there were some significant drainage issues that needed to be resolved.”
The greens were the original 1924 pushup greens with no drainage at all, explains Webner. “The top area was sandy, but if it rained for a few days in a row, it was like a bathtub out there. We fought disease quite a bit.”
A new drainage system, which was installed in 2008, has significantly improved course conditions.
A cart path that doubles as a scenic walking trail was also added, to allow for play in rainy conditions. In addition, two bridges and a cascading rock water feature were added that can be viewed from almost half of the holes on the course.
“Our new facility enhances our culture of being a club for our members and their families to enjoy,” says John Sico, PGA, Head Golf Professional. “The new building and course improvements have had an immediate impact and have given our members a fuller sense of pride about the club, especially when inviting guests for a golf or social event.
“The staff works together to provide our members and their families with a first-class club experience,” Sico adds. “As a staff, we focus on keeping our membership as involved as we can. Our event calendar is busier than ever, all with the same purpose: increasing traffic at the club and increasing our member involvement. That snowballs into success for us and our membership on many different levels.”
It’s even safe to say now that while the economic clouds haven’t completely cleared, Westwood’s investment in its facilities, and its future, have certainly made the forecast for the club a whole lot sunnier.