As a complete course renovation enhances its status as one of America’s most storied country clubs, The Philadelphia Cricket Club is gaining added strength from its new equipment supplier.
The Philadelphia Cricket Club (PCC) is one of the oldest clubs in the U.S., founded in 1854 by University of Pennsylvania graduates who wanted to continue playing cricket together. After 30 years of operating without a permanent property, a benefactor’s gift in 1883 allowed the club to settle into its original location, in the St. Martins section of Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood.
Golf was added to PCC’s mix of games in 1895, with a Willie Tucker-designed course that hosted the U.
S. Open in 1907 and 1910. The club then expanded in the 1920s by buying land in Flourtown, outside the city limits. A second course designed by A. W. Tillinghast, a PCC member, was opened in 1922 and is now known as Wissahickon. Eighty years later, PCC turned part of the Flourtown property into a third course, Militia Hill, designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry.
So when Dan Meersman came to PCC as Director of Grounds in 2008, he was entrusted with 45 holes of rich golf tradition and distinction (the original St. Martins course was converted back to nine holes after the other two were developed). “It was certainly a dream job, to have the opportunity to care for three courses, built in three different centuries and by such distinguished architects,” says Meersman, a third-generation superintendent who had previously been at Victoria National GC and Caves Valley GC.
But as often happens, the passage of time that had helped to establish such a legacy for PCC had also taken its toll on the golf courses, not only in terms of cumulative wear and tear, but also through a slow but inexorable departure from the architects’ original intent and design. So Meersman’s primary charge upon assuming his new role would be to oversee complete restorations of PCC’s two oldest courses.
Working with renowned architect and restoration expert Keith Foster, St. Martins’ nine-hole layout was successfully restored in 2012. This year, Foster and Meersman began to direct a “full-scale, sympathetic restoration” of Wissahickon, designed to “bring Tilly home” by recreating the course Tillinghast had built, with minor yardage adjustments to accommodate modern-day golf. At the same time, the project will introduce new greens, tees and bunkers with more maintenance-friendly grasses and other features that Meersman says will “set up the course well for the next 50 to 75 years.”
A Fitting Fleet
With all of this on his plate upon arriving at PCC, it would have been understandable if Meersman might have wanted to try to make do with the equipment that was on hand. But he also felt it was time for PCC—which was then maintaining its courses with a mix of equipment it had bought over the years, and that represented a variety of manufacturers and a wide range of age and use—to take steps to upgrade and bring uniformity to its fleet, so the restoration projects could be supported with a more efficient maintenance program.
Discussions began with John Deere Golf that included its John Deere Financial division as well as Finch Services, Deere’s mid-Atlantic dealer, and that led to a four-year, $1.3 million agreement representing PCC’s first venture into the leasing arena. Beginning in 2010, the “wall-to-wall Master Lease,” as Meersman describes it, brought a full complement of new equipment to PCC, including fairway mowers, walking and riding greens mowers, trim and surrounds mowers, rough mowers, utility vehicles, debris blowers, bunker rakes, topdressers, and reel and bedknife grinders.
The beneficial effects of the change, Meersman reports, were immediate. “The first day trucks rolled in with new equipment, our whole staff morale went up 10 points,” he says. Over time, he adds, the value of “leveraging our dollars and streamlining our decision-making” became evident in a variety of ways, from simplified training to increased operating efficiencies.
“Using the same pieces at all of our courses has made a tremendous difference for our operators, in terms of their comfort level, familiarity and performance quality,” Meersman says. “And our parts room shrunk in half.”
When the initial lease expired this year, Meersman didn’t hesitate to renew for another four years, this time building some lease-purchase options into the arrangement.
The John Deere team that’s worked with PCC has also gained much from the relationship. “Dan and his staff run a professional maintenance program that’s second to none, with state-of-the-art policies and procedures,” says John Deere Golf’s Cory Niehaus. “They’ve been great about sharing best practices and feedback on the equipment, which we can then pass on to other customers, as well as our own product engineers, to further improve our equipment’s value.”
Even if it may have taken over a century to come together, Rhonda Flanery, Product Marketing Manager for John Deere Financial, isn’t surprised the relationship has worked out well. “[John Deere] celebrated its 175th year in 2012, so we share similar longevity in our respective businesses,” she notes. “I think that’s reflected in shared core values, and is why those at PCC felt our companies would align very well.”