Lawrence village in business with KemperSports

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Less than a week before the contract with BrightView Landscape Service was to expire on April 1, the Village of Lawrence board of trustees approved a three-month agreement at a special board meeting with KemperSports to maintain the golf course at the Lawrence Yacht & Country Club, where the March 27 meeting was held.

KemperSports was one of the four companies Lawrence received presentations from last summer as the village aimed to privatize the village-owned and operated country club.

Lawrence officials said that a contract for a longer period of time is being finalized, which would include provisions for KemperSports to manage the entire club except for food and beverage, but the Illinois-based firm will be consulting on that as well.

Last August, the village had Arcis Golf, Billy Casper Golf, KemperSports and Troon Privé speak to the board about what those companies could do to improve country club operations. In addition to the 18-hole, 6,363-yard golf course, there are nine lighted Har-Tru tennis courts, a 135-slip marina and a catering hall. Troon Privé manages the Woodmere Club.

The idea of privatizing the Lawrence club’s operations has been kicked around by several village administrations. It gained more steam during the Great Recession of 2008, coupled with the changing demographics of the Five Towns, now home to more Orthodox Jewish families, who are less likely to join country clubs. The primary objective is to make the club more financially sustainable, so the village doesn’t have to subsidize its operation, Lawrence officials have said.

Fewer Americans have been playing golf in recent years, and golf courses are closing. According to the National Golf Foundation, 190 facilities closed nationwide in 2016. More than 800 golf courses have closed in the U.S. in the last 11 years, Bloomberg LP has reported. The trend is to redevelop the land into housing or parkland.

In 2012, the village privatized the maintenance of the golf course, after laying off several employees in December 2011. With Valley Crest Maintenance taking care of the course, the village saved more than $300,000 in the first several months, officials said. After the club was severely damaged in Hurricane Sandy that October, the clubhouse and marina were rebuilt and the grounds repaired with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

More-aggressive membership campaigns have helped to attract and retain members, and tennis has had a renaissance at the club, with lights installed last year over the nine courts. The club has also built two pickleball courts in the past year.