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With private club market in crisis, LedgeRock GC expands membership scope

By |  January 7, 2020 0 Comments

LedgeRock Golf Club has updated its national and regional membership categories to complement its standard membership programs, in a move that reflects widespread disruption in private club markets not only in eastern Pennsylvania but nationally.

Photo: Larry Lambrecht

Photo: Larry Lambrecht

“The private club market is certainly changing faster and more dynamically than any time during my 30 years in this business,” said LedgeRock GC General Manager Gerry Heller. “It’s not about thriving. Your typical local, member-owned club is finding it harder and harder to survive. Demographics and attitudes have changed. That’s why so many clubs are closing or selling out to corporate ownership or going public.”

LedgeRock Golf Club opened in 2006 on 212 acres of terrain marked by striking elevation changes and riven by half a dozen roaring brooks. In this uncertain market (an average of 150 courses have closed each year since 2008, according to the National Golf Foundation), LedgeRock has thrived by doubling down on golf itself. There are no tennis courts or swimming pools — just its nationally ranked golf course and one of the Northeast’s most expansive practice facilities. Further down the hill sits Kohl Lodge, where national and regional members can stay the night.

“Our fortunes are frankly going the other way,” Heller said. “And, it’s our strong feeling that national and regional memberships are part of the reason why. It reimagines the traditional country club model. And quite honestly, there are a lot of folks out there whose clubs are housing developments today. They represent opportunity for LedgeRock, as well.”

Photo: Larry Lambrecht

Photo: Larry Lambrecht

National candidates for LedgeRock GC membership cannot live within 100 miles of the club. They may play up to 20 rounds of golf per year and have access to all club facilities, including overnights at Kohl Lodge, the club’s on-site guest cottage. Regional, or “nonresident” members may not own or rent property within 35 miles of the club. Their dues and initiation fees are slightly higher — full membership is more expensive still — but regional member may play up to 50 rounds a year.

Be it standard, regional or national, membership in LedgeRock Golf Club is offered by invitation only and remains subject to the board of managers approval.

The golf course at LedgeRock GC was designed by architect Rees Jones. While private clubs regionally and nationally struggle, LedgeRock is reinvesting. Jones and his associates were in Mohnton all year revamping the par-3 10th. The par-4 17th is slated for renovation next year.

In the Philadelphia market, A-list clubs are doing just fine. But B-list clubs — like their member-owned, “equity” brethren across the nation — are fighting to survive. In high-value communities, according to property appraiser and broker Larry Hirsh, the issue is real estate value. Course acreage is simply worth way more as housing, if the zoning allows it. The exacerbating factor is often club debt, much of it accrued prior to 2008 recession. That debt burden is the reason so many clubs have, in last decade, sold out to corporate management companies.

“What none of these clubs did was adjust proactively to what has become a new, broader, and still evolving market, one that includes more millennials, minorities and women. Their traditional country club cultures resisted these changes,” said Hirsh, owner of Conshohocken, Pa.-based Golf Property Analysts. “The challenge for LedgeRock is its location. But as a regional club, its market actually extends well past Harrisburg, north of Reading, south to Lancaster and all the way into the western Main Line suburbs. The approach is sound. We’ll see how this new market reacts.”

Heller reports that several members, rendered clubless by the Harrisburg closings, have already joined LedgeRock.

“That opened our eyes,” said Heller, who arrived at LedgeRock in early 2018 from Philmont CC. “It’s awful to see clubs closing. We know those people as colleagues and neighbors. But golfers don’t just stop playing because their club went public. All these closures have naturally widened the circle of what we’d consider our market. With lodging here and our unique golf-only approach, we’ve recognized our niche and folks are eager to buy in.”

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