A renovation that touched everything from dining and clubhouse aesthetics to swimming, racquets and golf has Rockrimmon Country Club in Stamford, Conn. offering something for every member.
In a world of excess and a “bigger is better” mentality, Rockrimmon Country Club in Stamford, Conn., sets itself apart by way of intimacy.
In particular, Rockrimmon has always been a little bit more of a casual club.
“We call it an intimate club in the country as opposed to being more formal and imposing as some clubs can be,” says Club President William Aron. “I think that is the key to our extremely high level of member engagement and usage.
Part of the intimacy is the club’s scale, Aron notes. No activity is too far away so that the members are in close proximity and interacting with each other.
“Our Beverage Director Maurice Ryan would call our club the ‘Land of Yes,’” he says.
“You can run a bar with Casamigos [tequila] and Tito’s [vodka] these days, but this is, as I call it, ‘the Land of Yes,’” Ryan says. “If you want it, we’ll have it. And if we don’t, we’ll find a way to get it. And that’s kind of the ethos that we live by, the service we give here.”
“We are a very collegial community,” Aron adds. “Our members want to be together and they feel comfortable coming up here anytime, enjoying their club, in a relaxed atmosphere. The renovation only enhanced this culture.”
Time to Refresh
Aron, who has been at Rockrimmon for more than 40 years—originally as a child of a member, and for the past 25 years, as a member—is currently in his seventh year (fourth term) as President, having spent four years before that as Admissions Chair. He says Rockrimmon has always been known as a premier club with great food and a fabulous golf course, but over the years, tastes in décor had changed, as have the trends in country club living.
“There is no doubt that there has been an ‘arms race’ in country club renovations in our area, and we needed to react to that and up our game in our own way,” he says. “Being careful to protect our unique culture and not overbuild.
“In planning for our renovation, we were laser focused on maintaining that environment while reacting to the changing trends in the club industry,” Aron continues. “In particular, the demand for outdoor dining and socializing areas, which became even more important due to COVID-19, drove much of our vision.”
Similarly, as the membership became younger, there was a distinct desire for a clearly defined grill room and bar. Members wanted a more casual space to eat, with a bit more energy than in the main dining room. They also wanted to eat at the bar and watch the game.
In the process of planning, Aron says the club listened to all the membership classes and tried to react to different lifestyle desires.
“Ultimately, that is why the project has been so well received by our membership and why it has enhanced the already special Rockrimmon sense of community,” he explains.
At the outset, a survey helped pinpoint the membership desires. This pointed the club to six main areas of action:
• Create additional outside dining and socialization areas;
• Build a new grill room with dedicated bar;
• Re-imagine pools (regular and kiddie) to be more resort-like;
• Add a fourth tennis court and enhanced tennis viewing area;
• Redecorate the clubhouse as a whole / add elevator at entrance; and
• Continue hole-by-hole golf course renovations.
From this, club leaders knew the membership hot points and engaged Judd Brown of JBD & JGA Architecture to develop a preliminary design plan and budget. Wesley Stout Associates handled the landscape architecture.
“Once we had a vision statement and design book, the renovation plan went to a vote of membership,” Aron says. “At Rockrimmon, any capital assessment larger than $1,500 per member must be approved by two-thirds of the voting membership. This is a high bar, but the renovation plan passed by closer to 90%. All of the club stakeholders knew it was time.”
The plan was approved by membership in June 2019 with an anticipated construction date of fall 2020.
“All summer and fall we refined the design and architectural plans and by mid-winter we were happy with the vision and began to prepare construction plans to bid out,” Aron explains. “Then the world began to shut down. Covid-19 hit and the world changed.”
In May of 2020, the Board of Governors of Rockrimmon made a brave decision. With COVID-19 emerging, they were at a crossroads. Should they build or should they postpone?
“We were truly heading into the unknown,” Aron says, “but as we took stock of the situation it seemed like we were given the perfect opportunity. All of a sudden, our outside event business evaporated so construction caused no loss of revenue, our members really didn’t want to be in the building so closure wasn’t an issue, and rates were extremely low.”
The club chose to build.
“Thankfully we bid our project out early enough so that the materials were ordered before the supply-chain crisis really took hold,” Aron says. “In fact, the entire project was completed in seven months – without any significant labor or materials disruptions. That is certainly a credit to our vision, but also to our construction manager Ashforth & Co., who did a fabulous job handling the tumultuous times and all the twists and turns in our plans.”
In all, the club added 3,500 sq. ft. of new patio space, which includes covered and uncovered dining as well as significant conversation seating areas and fire features and built a new grill room and bar approximating 2,000 sq. ft. Rockcrimmon renovated the front lobby to be more inviting and include an ADA elevator and redecorated the main dining room, lounge, card rooms and other common areas.
On the activities site, they replaced both pools and totally re-imagined the poolscape and kid’s areas and resurfaced the existing Har-Tru courts and added a fourth, which is bounded by a new set of viewing pavilions. Golf course renovations were tackled in the same renovation time frame.
“The renovation project touched most of the club and achieved exactly what it set out to do,” says General Manager Vincent Sofi. “Rockrimmon’s amenities are now polished and updated and the membership is cohesive and engaged.”
Sofi adds that the club will continue to improve the golf course (guided by a master plan and executed by David Fleury of Rulewich & Fleury Golf design) and will have completed a renovation of the third hole, adding new tee complexes and fairway bunkers, by this spring.
“Additionally, increased member usage and the loss of parking due to the fourth tennis court demands the creation of additional parking,” Sofi says. “We are in the process of designing this space which will include 60 spaces and between 2-4 pickleball courts. Pickle is obviously a hot button in club circles.”
Racquet sports are on the upswing at Rockrimmon, says Director of Tennis Jade Curtis.
“Generally, we see at least one member in a new Rockrimmon family is racquets orientated,” Curtis explains. “This has improved the level of play and enhanced engagement.
“To attract new players, we run a wide variety of clinics and social events,” she continues. “Some of our most attended are ‘pizza and pickle’ and ‘tacos and tennis’ social round robins.”
Paul Kenney, the club’s Head Golf Professional, describes the Robert Trent Jones course as a “gem.”
“It is always in great condition and presents a challenge to all level of golfers,” Kenney says. “We have a wonderful variety of holes which take full advantage of the rolling topography – giving us elevation changes and beautiful vistas.”
Kenney notes that tournaments are very well attended and include premiere events like the Ladies Member-Guest and Men’s Two-Day Invitational.
“Not all tournaments are designed to be competitive,” he points out. “In the shoulder seasons we run events which are really about having fun and socializing. The most notable of these is our “Wild Turkey Shoot” in which a 9-hole overland course is set up. Since the leaves must be off the tree, this is a fall event. Each cart gets a flask of Wild Turkey to ‘protect’ from any seasonally cold weather.”
Aron adds that the club installed two Trackman simulators in the main lounge, which has been an absolute “home run.” The lounge has its own bar and ample seating so it’s a defined space, which can be operated without opening up the entire clubhouse.
“We operate Thursday through Sunday with 90% utilization and members suddenly feel that we are open all winter long,” Aron says.
The Golf Lounge will operate from mid-December this year to mid-April.
Now and Later
Aron notes that “every stakeholder got something,” a rarity when a project gets unanimous reviews, from the most established members to the newest.
“I cannot stress enough about the energy and optimism the project gave our club,” Aron says. “At no time in the process – either in the planning stages, building process or finished job, were there competing factions, or conflict. That says a great deal.”
Now the focus is on engagement.
“The member experience is critical to retention of members,” Aron says. “This goes beyond the experience on the golf course. The club must offer something for all members of the family to enjoy … together or apart.”
Rockrimmon does this very well and appeals to empty nesters and families alike, Aron says.
“Because we are small and run by the members, we can be fleet of foot and constantly try new ideas/events,” he explains. “Many work – some don’t, but the members feel heard and know their club is listening.”
A great example of this is the aforementioned RCC Golf Lounge.
“As a small club, we have historically closed from January through March,” Aron says. “This was fine when many of our members were wintering in Florida, but things have changed and we have many members who are here for the winter and want to have the same relationship with their club in the winter as they do in the summer. A place where they can come up and socialize, have a few drinks, watch a game, etc. It’s a big win for Rockrimmon!”
Sofi, who joined the team a little more than a year ago, agrees.
“The future of our club is extremely bright and we look forward to building awareness of our special community,” says Sofi. C+RB
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