Billy Fuller Golf Design

In a year when more golf courses are closing than opening, and private clubs are losing members at an alarming rate, some courses are just trying to ride out the economic storm, hoping they still have a pulse when the dust clears.   But St. Ives Country Club in Johns Creek, Ga., is taking a different approach. The club recently completed a $2.5 million renovation project designed to make the course more challenging, more visually appealing and easier to maintain. It also became the first club in Georgia to hire an outside maintenance company to take responsibility for caring for the club’s grounds, including the 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed course that opened in 1988.

Some would say the moves are ill-timed in a stagnant economy that is hitting private clubs hard. A 2008 National Golf Foundation study found that 10 to 15 percent of private clubs are in financial distress, and that 57 percent in that group were operating at a loss.  But St. Ives officials see the renovation and commitment to conditioning as investments in the club’s future, as well as a preemptive strike in a competitive private club market.

“There are two ways to deal in hard times,” says Garry Briddon, a member of the club’s board of directors and chairman of the grounds committee. “You can sit on the sidelines and wait for things to get better. Or you can invest so you have a premium product sitting there ready to go when things turn around.”   St. Ives General Manager and COO John Gerdts adds, “We decided this was not the time to bury our heads.”

Atlanta-based golf course designer Billy Fuller, a former course superintendent at Augusta National Golf Club, was responsible for delivering the premium product St. Ives envisioned. The nine-month renovation project focused on enlarging and rebuilding tees, reshaping bunkers, removing trees to improve turf health and installing a more advanced irrigation system. ValleyCrest Golf Course Maintenance, a division of Calabasas, Calif.-based ValleyCrest Companies, the nation’s largest full-service landscape company, was hired in December 2008 to take over maintenance and establish a year-round agronomic program. The club believes ValleyCrest’s expertise and economies of scale will help smooth out peaks and valleys in course conditions and in the maintenance budget.   

      “Our grounds budget was a big roller coaster from month to month,” says Chris Schauerman, the club’s president. “Being able to lock in a budget number that we could manage to was very attractive.”

St. Ives Country Club

Atlanta, Georgia