By NEIL GEOGHEGAN
WEST BRADFORD, PA – The advantages of a locally owned and managed golf course is on full display at Broad Run Golfer’s Club, located about five miles west of West Chester. And some influential figures in the industry are starting to take notice.
Nearly 14 years since its inauspicious debut, and about 20 months after being purchased by Jonathan Byler of Lancaster from a private equity firm that had filed for bankruptcy, the 18-hole, semi-private club’s turnaround was affirmed when the Pennsylvania Golf Course Owner’s Association named Broad Run its ‘Golf Course of the year’ for 2013.
“It’s just recognition for hard work,” said Broad Run General Manager Jeff Broadbelt, formerly the point man for local golf course developer Jack Loew. “It’s rewarding as heck. It makes me feel good personally but it’s also good for business to be able to say we were voted Course of the Year.”
Broad Run opened as Tattersall Golf Club during the height of the golf boom in 2000, but there were financial woes from the start. Seven years later the original owner, Florida-based Meadowbrook Golf, sold the property to Dallas-based Pegasus Golf Partners who renamed it Broad Run. But problems persisted and it was eventually taken over by creditors, who ended up selling to Byler in the spring of 2012.
“It’s all about local ownership and management,” said Gregg Acri, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Golf Course Owner’s Association. “Any course that has that kind of structure should succeed.
“You get a corporation from Florida or Texas, they buy all of these golf courses, and they have their own management people they bring in. The problem with that is that if you don’t know the area, it’s tough to assimilate.”
Designed by Rees Jones, Broad Run is the third local course to receive the PGCOA award, and both are direct competitors: Honeybrook Golf Club was honored in 2009 and Wyncote Golf Club in 2010.
“Mainly, the special thing we did was take a course that’s been struggling for a while and just took control over it, and are starting to get it back to its original luster,” Broadbelt said.
“I think Greg Acri and the gang at (PGCOA) knew Broad Run was coming and that we were going to get this place cleaned up and improved.”
One of Byler’s first moves was to hire Broadbelt, who has also been at Chester Valley and Spring Hollow golf clubs, and golf professional Pete Lovenguth, who came from Applecross Country Club and is the longtime golf coach at Bishop Shanahan.
“(Broadbelt and Lovenguth) are connected to the community and they’ve worked hard to integrate (Broad Run) into the community,” Acri said. “That’s what Broad Run should have been doing back when it was Tattersall. Jeff then hired Chad Rightmyer from French Creek, who was a great assistant superintendent there.
“In the final analysis, it wasn’t hard to bring that course back because they had the right personnel.”
The criterion for the award is twofold: 1.) quality of course, ownership and management; and 2.) quality of contribution to community and to the game.
“Twenty years ago, you could just sit behind the counter and people just showed up to play golf,” Acri said. “Well, that’s not the way it is anymore. You have to show people what you have and then get them to come back. It’s easy to get them there once.
“Now, there are many more golf courses and many more price points, so you have to figure out ways to get the customer base to be loyal. The way to do that if with good customer service, and the only way to do that is to show the community you will work with them and really want to be a part of the community.”
Broadbelt is the first to admit that resuscitating Broad Run wasn’t as daunting as bringing Downingtown Country Club back to life after years of neglect in the mid-1990’s.
“It wasn’t anything like the Downingtown endeavor where we had to completely rebuild the place,” he pointed out. “Broad Run didn’t need an infrastructure rebuild, it just needed some sanding, spackling and a new coat of paint.
“It may be more on the surface, but conditioning is everything. We’ve had two seasons. The course is in markedly better condition, and that plays a big part, but a lot of it is what we’ve done for the industry and the game. We’ve tightened things up, we’ve improved the food and beverage component by a large margin. The total product is better and I think that is what they are recognizing.”
Moving forward, Broadbelt says the main focus for Broad Run “is to let everyone know we are back and we are better,” and to highlight big improvements made in the food and beverage component at Bordley House Grille.
“It’s not because we are dying to get into the food and beverage business, but even non-golfer’s that come here and have a good experience, they will talk about it,” Broadbelt explained. “We want to create that kind of buzz in the community.”