Golfing Magazine recently traveled out to the newly renovated Colonial Springs Golf Club
Golfing Magazine recently traveled out to the newly renovated Colonial Springs Golf Club to speak with owner Steve Locke and CFO Bill Carr. Now a private club after 11 years of public play, Colonial Springs is an affordable, “golf-first” facility. Long Island golfers will be pleasantly surprised by what Colonial Springs has to offer. GM: Let’s start by talking about what Colonial Springs used to be, and what it’s striving for now.
SL: Colonial Springs was originally designed to be a public golf course. Arthur Hills was the architect and his mandate was to build a great golf course that was challenging but consistent with fast play. When we recently decided to become a private course, that changed. If you walked the course before its renovation, you would notice that the features were somewhat muted. It was very good for what it needed to be, but it wasn’t special. You could look at a hole and think, “This is a very good golf hole,” but you wouldn’t see anything truly special about it. Everything was good, but it had the potential to be a lot better. Robert Trent Jones, Jr. was responsible for the renovation that has yielded the course you see today. You’ll see a lot of great golf holes out there that you’ll remember for a long time.
BC: Another reason was that as a public course, our rounds had dropped. This was going on all over the Island during the past eight years or so. Not as many people were attending golf outings and there were no-shows for weekend tee times. Most golf courses on Long Island saw their rounds drop. Our market study showed that there was still unmet demand for a private club with great golf in this area, so we decided to pursue that. GM: What were some of the things you needed to do to become a private club?
SL: The renovation. As I said, the course was already good, but we thought there was room for even more, and as a private club, more is expected of you. Our course is now much more contoured, and more visually striking. Robert Trent Jones, Jr. does a wonderful job of creating a course that is both beautiful and intimidating. Long Island National is another great example of this. I suspect there may also have been an element of brotherly competition involved after Rees Jones’ work on Bethpage Black, which is only a few miles from us. The other thing we needed to address was membership pricing. As a new private club, we knew we needed affordability. This developed into some great full and weekday plans with extended payment schedules. GM: So the decisions to go private and to renovate were made at the same time?
SL: Yes, that’s accurate. We knew we had to do something special if we were going private.
BC: We looked at the Arthur Hills design and we were comfortable that the routing was basically sound. We also realized that most of the greens had interesting contours and were well shaped, so from tee to green we were in pretty good shape. To take the course to the next level, we needed a “wow” factor, and this was accomplished by making the bunkering more impressive and imposing, adding major mounding to frame fairways and greens and expanding the native grass areas to create that look of a great Long Island course. We built two new greens, moved some of the tees back, and expanded one of the lakes to wrap around the new green at the 7th hole of the Pines. The Jones people said, “When we’re done, people are going to say ‘Wow, have you seen what they’ve done to Colonial Springs?’” I think that’s what you should say to your readers. GM: What else has been built into the course to improve it? Is there a new signature hole or just a really great stretch of holes?
SL: That would have to be the Pines nine. Most of the holes that required major earthmoving and recontouring were on the Pines nine. Our members (as well as some members of Bob Jones’ staff) have been debating which hole is now the signature hole. They knew it should come from the Pines, but they couldn’t decide on which one!
BC: I think Bob Jones would also tell you that the idea of a “signature hole” is not necessarily one that he adopts. Each hole should be a signature hole. That’s what the renovation did—it made each hole on the course more dramatic, more memorable.
SL: During construction, Arthur Hills once asked us if he could take one of the holes down about ten feet. We said, “Go ahead, take it down thirty feet!” I think he was a little hesitant to go too far, though. Bob Jones went that extra bit, and I think you can see the results. While both are great designers, I think Arthur Hills was more conservative in his approach. He was worried about pushing the course too far, but Bob Jones wasn’t. He’s definitely more of a risk-taker, and the results are really fantastic. GM: How do you plan on getting the message out that Colonial Springs is now private?
SL: A lot of our daily fee players have already joined the club. They’re paying a little more for the private experience, but they love it because they’re playing on Saturday mornings with 90 other golfers instead of 300. In fact, they are our best ambassadors for generating new members.
BC: We were doing over 50,000 rounds a year as a public course, and a lot of people learned about the conversion by calling for a tee time and finding out that we were now a private club. We’ve also done some mailings, but it’s difficult to reach everybody.
I’m still surprised when I hear someone from this area who hasn’t heard of Colonial Springs. With the construction complete, we
will launch a major marketing effort in conjunction with our grand opening on the first of June. Plus, we look forward to getting the word out to all of your readers.
SL: An advantage to having fewer rounds is that we are able to keep the greens as they should be, in private club condition. We have a new superintendent, Mark Chant, and he’s done a beautiful job with the greens. Our members can’t believe how much Mark has improved their speed and roll.
BC: That’s an important point. Because there are fewer rounds, the course gets less wear and tear. With less damage to the tees and greens, we’re able to keep them in great shape all year long. GM: Are you renovating any other part of the club?
SL: Eventually we will be doing a clubhouse expansion. Tentatively, we’re looking to do that in 2008. Meanwhile, we’re building a practice facility this year that will be next to the driving range. We plan on having a full short game area for chipping, pitching, and bunker play. GM: You’re in a unique area because there are no other private facilities within miles of you. What kind of membership are you trying to attract?
SL: We have a fairly mixed membership right now. With the construction now complete, we’re going to make a significant effort in the corporate Melville area. This will be good for the club because it should add to the weekday play without overcrowding the weekends. Corporate members will also enjoy entertaining their guests in our restaurant after their round. We have a top-notch chef, and our entire food and beverage staff does an excellent job. GM: Have you been getting many members from outside the area?
SL: We’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by the number of members that have come from Manhattan. We don’t get many members from out east—I guess once you go out east, you stay out east! But we do have a fairly diverse membership
geographically. GM: You’re dissimilar to other clubs in that you’re pretty much focused on just golf. There’s no tennis, no pool, none of that stuff. The course is really beautiful and challenging to play—how do you sell people on the strengths of Colonial Springs?
SL: We have something really special here—27 holes, newly renovated in the Robert Trent Jones, Jr. style. They look great, they’re challenging, and they have a ton of variety. We’re looking for good golfers to come enjoy a very good golf course at affordable prices. Another thing that members love is that there are no extra charges. You’re not required to spend a fixed amount during any period and there are no food minimums or other irritating fees. People don’t like bad surprises and they don’t want to be forced to work off their minimums. We think our members will choose to play and dine at Colonial because the course is great and the food and service are so good. That’s the way it should be. I think we have something really special at Colonial Springs that’s worth checking out.