Club: Sunset Ridge CC
Location: Northfield, Ill.
Interior Design/ Architectural Firm: CCI Club Design, Irving, Tex.
Cost: $11 million
Dates: Planning, 2001-03; Construction, 2004-05
• Outdated center portion of 80-year-old, original clubhouse building replaced with new structure connecting two locker room wings
• Renewed emphasis on casual dining has generated consistent a la carte revenue growth (25% annual basis)
• Greater flexibility of facility and kitchen improvements have boosted banquet business by 50% on annual basis
If he hadn’t decided to have a successful career in club management, Jim Petersen, CCM, could have certainly found work as a headline writer. When he wrote for the newsletter of the Chicago-area chapter of the Club Managers Association of America about his experiences with the renovation of Sunset Ridge Country Club in Northfield, Ill. (where he is General Manager), Petersen started with a title that he knew would get the attention of his colleagues: Renovating Your Club is Fun and Easy!
Petersen, of course, had his tongue firmly in cheek when he chose that heading. For one thing, fully recounting his experiences with the Sunset Ridge project, which took over two years to plan and the better part of another two to execute, required not just one article, but a three-part series—and Part Three alone included a list of over 70 details that Petersen presented as a “good starting point” for things to pay attention to during the construction phase (see Adding to the “Short” List).
Additionally, this was not a matter of simply knocking down everything old and replacing it with all things new. The project required a sweeping makeover of a loose assemblage of facilities that had evolved over the 80-year-history of Sunset Ridge, a private club in Chicago’s north suburb. But the membership didn’t have the budget, or the desire, to do it in a fashion that would erase the established character and long-standing traditions of the club.
of Sunset Ridge’s existing furnishings were reupholstered rather than
replaced, to help retain the club’s established character while keeping
Still, serious infrastructure problems had to be addressed in the original clubhouse, and at the same time its central portion had to be expanded and connected with two locker room wings that had been erected separately, to improve access and functionality. The exterior of the buildings also needed a facelift, including a new entrance with porte cochere.
To accomplish all of this within budget ($11 million), the decision was made to do a partial tear-down and rebuild with extensive renovations—and to still keep at least parts of the club open and functioning for as much of the projected 17-month construction period as possible.
With all of these challenges involved, was there any way this could possibly end up being characterized as a “fun and easy” experience? “I would certainly never call what we did as being ‘easy’—it was not,” Petersen wrote after the project’s completion. “I lost many hours of sleep fretting over the details of the planning and construction.
“And while the word ‘fun’ never really entered my mind during the construction phase, it has been fun seeing the members enjoy the new facilities since we reopened,” he added. “It has made the two-plus years of planning, the 130 design/construction meetings I’ve attended, and last year and half of construction a worthwhile experience.”
The Fun Continues
There’s a Part Four of the Sunset Ridge story, though, that’s still being written—and for this installment, Petersen’s headline seems to apply perfectly. Entering the third year after construction, Petersen reports that members are not only still enjoying the new facilities, they’re using them at an eye-opening pace.
“The results have been phenomenal,” Petersen reported when contacted for an update at the end of 2007. “Our banquet business has increased 50% on an annual basis, and our grill room increased 20% the first year out of the gate and another 25% this past year. Overall we’ve seen total food and beverage revenues go from $1.8 million per year to $2.5 million.
“What’s really struck me has been that there’s been no fallback at all,” Petersen added. “Most of the managers I talked with about their own renovation experiences told me we could expect to see an initial bump in business, but then things would slow down. But we’ve seen no sign of that yet; it just keeps growing and growing.”
A Formula for a Permanent Fix
Such extensive—and extended—payoffs are due to how Sunset Ridge and its design partner, CCI, approached and executed the renovation, using a formula that called for equal portions of innovative strategy, flexibility, and perseverance.
Going in, it was clear that the renovation was going to have to make up for years of lost time—and quickly, given the rapidly deteriorating state of the club’s physical infrastructure.
“The exterior walls of the ballroom were bowing out under the load of the roof,” reports Chuck Berberich, CCI’s Vice President of Architecture. “Walking through the club after a rainstorm required dodging numerous trash cans catching water from the ceiling. The kitchen was outdated and too small, and the ceiling in the prep area, which was exposed to piping and electrical conduit, was so low in places even the shortest staff had to duck. Exterior stucco was deteriorated, and the half-timbers showed signs of dry rot.”
casual dining through the renovation has paid off with two straight
years of 25% increases in a la carte revenues—and no slowdown in sight.
While setting out to address these pressing needs, however, Sunset Ridge and CCI made sure to avoid rushing into quick fixes. Time was also taken to assess how the many dysfunctional parts of the property could be brought together to not only operate more efficiently, but also help to deliver more of how current Sunset Ridge members would now want to use the club.
A member survey was conducted to help provide direction for this part of the process—but gutsy calls, based on instinct and experience, were also used to make some key strategic decisions.
“[CCI Principal] Harry Chris told us he’s found that member surveys often indicate a desire for more ‘formal’ dining—but then when you build rooms that are too big or too elaborate, they don’t get used enough to justify the expense or space,” Petersen reports. “People say ‘formal’ when they really mean ‘nicer,’ he told us.
|Sunset Ridge GM Jim Petersen came out of the experience still smiling—and the good feelings have only continued to grow.|
“CCI felt we should focus on nice, but still-casual dining, and using available dining space to create a better connection between the clubhouse and the golf course,” he adds. “I certainly think that’s been accomplished; the F&B numbers bear that out. We now always have people in golf clothes, and people in coats and ties, in the grill room at the same time, and it’s never an issue.”
Extending the Walls
The member survey also led to a request for an exercise facility, leading to another innovative solution. The various existing buildings were all two stories, giving Sunset Ridge the luxury of a lot of additional basement space that many clubs don’t enjoy. But because they had all been built separately, the lower level was a jumble of largely unusable and inefficient catacombs.
By bringing all of the lower-level space together, Sunset Ridge would now have 27,000 sq. ft. of connected space that could be used not only to create more efficient storage and offices, but also for members to easily access a new fitness room. (For a floor plan of the lower level, go to www. clubandresortbusiness.com and click on Design & Renovation at the top, then Club Architect.)
The “smartest thing” done through the project, Petersen says, was to extend ample outdoor dining terrace space from the back of the clubhouse towards the golf course (see first-floor plan, pg. 37). While this was done primarily to boost capacity for banquets, an extension of the terrace from the grill and pub areas has also proved to be quite popular with regular diners. “On a nice day or evening, it’s not unusual now to see 80 people choosing to eat out there,” Petersen says.
Over the long, five-year road of planning and project execution, Sunset Ridge and CCI certainly encountered their fair share of obstacles that required adjustments and cutbacks to keep the project on time and on target. “The active involvement and timely decision-making of our club President and key Board members were critical to overcoming the roadblocks that inevitably arose during the project,” Petersen notes.
renovation improved access and functionality between different parts of
the clubhouse building while also creating a stronger connection
between the entire clubhouse and the golf course. (Click here to view PDF of lower level).
But by persevering and staying focused on the objectives of the strategy, what emerged at the end still bore a remarkably strong resemblance to what everyone set out to accomplish at the beginning. And that, in turn, led to remarkably strong—and still ongoing—acceptance by members (prospective as well as current; Petersen reports that while Sunset Ridge experienced the usual attrition because of renovation-related assessments, it is now back at full member capacity of 300, with a growing wait list.)
In the end, in fact, you might even say they made it all look easy.
Adding to the “Short” List
As he prepared for the renovation at Sunset Ridge, Jim Petersen got no shortage of tips from fellow club managers on the “dos and don’ts” of project management. After his own project was finally comple-ted, Petersen decided to document his experience, and the pointers he’d received (plus many new ones he’d noted of his own), in three articles that he wrote for his Chicago-area chapter of the Club Managers Association of America.
In the final article (titled “Isn’t There Supposed to Be an Outlet There—and You Want Me to Put the Thermostat Where?”) Petersen presented a “list of items to consider when planning a renovation or building project” that had been started by an industry colleague (John Jordan, MCM) and added to over time by other club managers.
“The old adage of ‘the devil is in the details’ is very fitting when speaking about club construction projects,” Petersen wrote. “Attention to detail—or lack thereof—will determine how successful the end product is in any project.
“There are countless items to think about and it may seem overwhelming,”Peter-sen added. “My advice is to take copious notes and have a good paper trail, to ensure items make it onto the construction documents.”
Editor’s Note: Jim Petersen’s three-part series of articles, “Renovating Your Club is Fun and Easy!” including a list of over 70 ideas for minimizing construction-related project headaches, can be found at clubandresortbusiness.com (click on Design &?Renovation at the top, then Club Architect).