Lawrence Country club to be privatized?

Village board considers turning over daily operations

Posted

Second of two parts.

The Lawrence Yacht & Country Club has hosted, and been the subject of, four meetings as the five-member Village of Lawrence board of trustees considers privatizing the 94-year-old, village-owned-and-operated facility, with the goal of ensuring its financial sustainability.

Privatizing the club — which includes an 18-hole, 6,363-yard golf course, nine lighted Har-Tru tennis courts, a 135-slip marina and a catering hall — would mean that the village would relinquish daily operations to an outside company. Lawrence privatized maintenance of the golf course six years ago, when it brought in Valley Crest to care for the greens.

Four companies made presentations on how they would run the club should the village board decide to privatize it. The first meetings on Aug. 17, were with Billy Casper Golf and Troon Privé. Arcis made its case on Aug. 22, and KemperSports on Aug. 23. Trustee Daniel Goldstein did not attend the first two meetings. Deputy Mayor Michael Fragin was not at the last two. Fragin is the only trustee who is a club member.

The Virginia-based Billy Casper Golf manages more than 150 golf courses in 29 states. Troon, which has five offices in the U.S. and one in Dubai, manages more than 300 clubs around the world. Arcis, based in Dallas, is invested as an owner in 60 clubs nationwide, and has lease agreements with or manages 14 more. Kemper-Sports, headquartered in Northbrook, Ill., runs 130 facilities across the country.

The Lawrence Club, and other clubs in the Five Towns, are feeling the effects of two major cultural trends. Golf has become less popular nationwide, with the number of golfers dropping from 30 million in 2003 to 24 million this year, based on overall industry figures. Unique to the Five Towns is the increasing number of Orthodox Jewish residents, who do not typically play golf or join country clubs.

And according to Douglas Hellman, KemperSports’ senior vice president for business development, golf clubs are also battling a lifestyle change. “People are spending less time playing golf,” Hellman said, adding, “Being a club member is a lifestyle decision.” An amenity like a swimming pool, he said, can be almost as big a draw as golf, as it has been at the firm’s renovated Village of Sands Point club. “Members are the lifeblood of the club, and retention of members is important,” Hellman said. “You can’t cut your way to prosperity or financial stability.”

Meghan Taylor, the director of business development for Arcis, noted that her company not only manages and leases clubs, but also owns them. “I work for you,” she said, describing Arcis as a “boutique firm.” “We are owners and have our butts on the line.”

Taylor said that Arcis, if chosen, would take a tour of the property with its entire team, and then create a comprehensive plan within two weeks. She also said that a pool is “a big attraction for young families.” Village officials have discussed the possibility of building a pool at the club.

Casper’s five representatives stressed data-driven market research to increase membership, and said it would pay the village an annual fee, create a profit-sharing plan and make a capital investment in the club.

Troon’s representative, Regional Manager Archie Cart, emphasized the firm’s experience with hospitality — more specifically, improving employee skills and enhancing the club’s standing in the marketplace — and its purchasing power, which would make the club’s operations more cost-effective.

Troon currently manages the Woodmere Club, which is expected to close in October 2021, with its 118 acres likely to be developed into residential housing.

Village Park Commission Chairman Howard Siskind, who attended all four meetings, offered his perspective. “Privatization takes away from the individuality of the club,” the 54-year member said simply.

Mayor Alex Edelman said the trustees would “mull their situation over at the next village board meeting” on Sept. 13, at 8 p.m., at Village Hall, at 196 Central Ave. in Lawrence.

Have an opinion about Lawrence considering privatizing the country club? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.