Course of Action
Longmeadow Country Club will turn 100 in a few years (the easy-to-remember 2022, to be more specific).
It is a venerable institution with considerable history, much of it focused on two of the most famous names in the history of golf: Donald Ross and Bobby Jones.
The former designed the course, and it is considered one of his best — in this region if not the country (he designed more than 400 courses worldwide). The latter is considered the greatest amateur in the history of the game. The winner of seven major championships, he played Spalding clubs, and the Chicopee-based company put his name on some of its equipment. When he visited the plant, he would often play Longmeadow Country Club and became a member there.
The club has hosted a number of tournaments over the years, including several Massachusetts Amateurs and the 2005 U.S. Junior Amateur, won by current PGA Tour pro Kevin Tway. Popular current players Rickie Fowler and Sam Saunders (Arnold Palmer’s grandson) also competed that year.
Meanwhile, the club has long been the only one in the region to have caddies, and its program has involved young people who would become captains of industry — and even captains in the military (an admiral, actually) — who would proudly recall their time at LCC.
There’s so much tradition and lore here that you often see adjectives placed before the club, like historic, fabled, and storied. And while those still apply, all that doesn’t make LLC immune from the powerful forces impacting the game — and business — of golf and private clubs everywhere, said current President Patrick O’Shea, a lawyer by trade and avid golfer.
“We no longer have a situation where the younger generation aspires, as a sign of success, to join a country club,” he said, summing up a complex matter rather simply. “The family money is going to a lot of places other than a country club.”
The need to respond to this sea change was the catalyst for a nearly $5 million renovation at the club. There is some work taking place on the course itself, O’Shea noted, adding that several hundred trees have been taken down, mostly in an effort to bring sunlight into areas of the course that sorely need it. But the most sweeping changes will be in and around the stately clubhouse.
Indeed, the facility is being made more casual and more family-friendly, he said, citing everything from a completely new look and feel inside the clubhouse to a new pool and patio area outside.
The plans call for demolishing the old tap room and nearby patio area and replacing that with a new 19th-hole/bar area with seating for about 50 people, with an adjacent casual dining space for nearly 100 people, with an open, family-friendly design.
Those we spoke with would wear out those words ‘open’ and ‘casual,’ in large part because these are things the old clubhouse wasn’t, but needs to be moving forward, because this is the environment members want.
“The focus is on the casual, fun social-gathering spaces,” said Rod Clement, LCC’s general manager, adding that the club is moving away away from the ‘white linen’ look and feel — although there will still be some of that if it’s appropriate. “People want spaces where they can see each and other and interact; they don’t have to be segregated in different venues of the club. People want to be part of a community and see people coming in and out.”
The extensive renovations bring with them a discernable level of risk for the club — it has lost some members as a result of the assessment levied to help pay for it, and replacing them is challenging in this environment, even for LCC.
But all those we spoke with said it was something the club needed to do as it strives to thrive not only in its second century, but in a new environment for private country clubs.
For this issue and its focus on sports and leisure, BusinessWest toured the new clubhouse and talked with several of those involved with this ambitious project to gain some insight into the latest chapter in the club’s long history.
That tour took place on St. Patrick’s Day, when the club scheduled an open house at which members could see the work in progress.
More than 100 people would come through the new front door at the course that day, said Jim Kennedy, the club’s vice president, adding that this number reflects the size and scope of this project, as well as the level of investment on the part of the membership.
Longmeadow is one of only two member-owned clubs left in this region (Ludlow is the other), and every aspect of this project had to be approved by committee — actually, two of them. First, the long-range planning committee, which took ownership of the project, and then the membership as a whole.
“I think it went quite smoothly,” said O’Shea, tongue firmly planted in cheek as he talked about what became several years of planning, revising plans, and revising them some more.
He said talks concerning a serious makeover at the club actually began about five or six years ago, and escalated over time. The talks commenced because the scene was changing at private clubs regionally and across the country.
“We had different national consultants come in and talk with the members and let them know that there are changes on the horizon in the country-club scene,” he told BusinessWest. “They said that it’s more family-centric, with women making more of the decisions about joining clubs, where before it was men.
“We have a spectacular golf course here — everyone knows that, we know that, we love it, we appreciate it, we’re stewards of it,” he went on. “But we realized that we need more than that; we recognized that we need to enhance the family and social gathering places. Some of the spaces we had were more set up for the 1950s dining and dancing culture than the culture of today.”
By late 2015, a plan emerged — and was actually approved by the members — for a $7.4 million renovation focused entirely on the clubhouse, with nothing slated for the course or pool and related facilities.
After much consideration, and despite approval from the membership, the panel created for this initiative decided to “tap the brakes,” as O’Shea put it, and consider something on a smaller yet broader scale. What eventually emerged is what members toured on St. Patrick’s Day.
As they drove in, they could probably see some of the changes on the course itself, undertaken in accordance with a 54-page golf-course master plan prepared by golf architect Ron Prichard, a well-known Donald Ross restoration specialist (changes to Ross-designed courses are not undertaken lightly).
While there will be repair work to the cart paths and installation of improved drainage on holes 9,12, and 17, the biggest change involves the removal of trees.
This is a movement taking place across the golf landscape, literally and figuratively, said Tim Quirk, head pro at LCC, noting that, while trees can define a golf hole, some trees don’t contribute to a course’s design or degree of difficulty but do keep areas in almost constant shade, thus impacting turf condition.
It is trees of this latter variety (more than 300 of them by the latest count) that the club has taken down since late last fall. A good number of trees have come down on the right side of the 10th fairway, but the biggest change is the removal of a large stand of trees between the 3rd and 6th holes.
Indeed, as they walked BusinessWest out for a look, Kennedy and Quirk stopped at the tee of the par-3 7th and gestured out to something that could never be seen from that spot before — the 3rd green.
But as dramatic as the on-course changes are, those inside and around the clubhouse are even more so. Overall, though, they were blueprinted in a way that would change the look and feel of the interior of the clubhouse, but yield what O’Shea called “minimal exterior transformation to make sure it looks like it’s been here for 100 years.”
Bill Laplante and his father, Ray, principals with East Longmeadow-based Laplante Construction, were assigned the task of designing and undertaking the renovations. But as long-time members, they were already heavily invested in it — in every way.
As he walked BusinessWest through the new clubhouse-in-progress, Bill Laplante also used the words ‘open,’ ‘casual,’ and ‘family-friendly,’ but he added some others that hadn’t been used to reference to the LCC facilities historically — like ‘modern,’ ‘flexible,’ and ‘energy-efficient.’
“We tried to marry the new with the old to make sure that it’s consistent with regard to the original design of the building,” he explained. “But at the same time, we’re trying to modernize the space.”
By modernize, he meant amenities like an elevator for handicap accessibility between the main level, pool-deck level, and the pool locker-room level below it. But he was also referring to foam insulation, new windows, and new roofing in some sections for increased efficiency.
And also to how everything has been designed — with the goal of creating an environment that is open, bright (there’s much more natural light), and easy to navigate.
The Next Chapter
Overall, this is an extensive makeover that includes everything from that new front door to a new private dining room; from a new and expanded kitchen with energy-efficient equipment to a new audio-visual system. As LaPlante said, it’s a marriage of the old and the new, which is important here.
Indeed, from the road, the clubhouse still says ‘1922,’ which is what the members want and demand.
But inside, it says ‘2018,’ and in all the important ways, that is also what is wanted and needed.
Thus, a course and a club steeped in tradition and lore is writing an important new chapter in its history.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]