September 28, 2020 - As the fireworks ascended over the splendid and historic Springdale Golf Club in Princeton on the occasion of the club’s 125th anniversary, it was time to celebrate not only a historic milestone, but the fact that the club was firmly poised for the future as a response to changing demographics in the golf community.

Springdale, which resides on property owned by Princeton University, has also enjoyed a beneficial relationship with its landlord, which recently extended its lease to the club through 2036. There are no plans to use the sacred land – which has ties to the Revolutionary War – for any other purpose.

As home to the Princeton University men’s and women’s golf teams, the club features the new state-of-the-art indoor Tiger Performance Center built by the university. This spring, groundbreaking is expected for a modern practice facility to the benefit of both members and the collegiate golfers.

“The experience of the university-member relationship is welcomed, and truly critical for Springdale because the university is such an important part of what happens here,” said club president Kevin Tylus.

“It’s a partnership in the fact that the university owns the land and the club is private. Yet all that happens at Springdale is mutually beneficial. The two organizations work hand in hand with the understanding that the university connection is such a benefit.”

The course plays at 6,380 yards from the championship tees and 6,017 yards from the white tees, with par at 71 for each. From the red tees, the course is 5,546 yards and is a par-72. In recent years the course has seen numerous renovations to the greenside bunkers and surrounds. In 2007, the practice area was upgraded and construction of the newly located clubhouse opened.

Springdale has been a more than willing host for NJSGA events, including this year’s NJPGA/NJSGA Senior Open Championship on Sept. 29. Last year, it hosted the NJSGA Senior Amateur and Super-Senior Championships. Three years ago, Springdale was the site of a NJSGA Open Championship qualifier. In 2018, it hosted the American Junior Golf Association and a sold-out PGA Women’s Clinic to introduce golf to professional women.   

Springdale was founded as the Princeton Golf Club in 1895 by alumni, faculty and undergraduates of Princeton University and was only the 58th golf club recognized by the USGA. It was built on the former Stockton Farm, which today includes both Springdale and Princeton’s Graduate College, which includes the iconic Grover Cleveland Tower. The property was turned over to the university in 1909. The course was expanded from nine to 18 holes in 1915 and the club was renamed Springdale Golf Club in 1922. 

The relationship with Troon, which manages more than 400 golf courses, has altered Springdale’s dynamic for the good of all involved. It started with a chance connection between Board President Tylus and Troon executive Jim Richerson, who is also the incoming President of the PGA of America.

Three years ago, Springdale’s Board of Governors decided to look outside the box in making the club more efficient and attractive in as many ways as possible. Hiring Troon to help manage various aspects of the club was a move made from great deliberation and is one that has made Springdale a much more exciting and appealing place to be.

“They brought everything to us,” said Springdale club president Kevin Tylus. “They brought sales and marketing, back office accounting and finance, and modern technology systems. Our employees are in their benefit system which offers a better plan at a lower cost. They established a robust social media program and fully reconstructed our website. They did all of that in the first year.”

At Springdale, Troon oversees finances and agronomy, among other aspects, and according to many, “the course conditions are the best ever.” An impressive added benefit is the ability of Springdale members to enjoy reciprocal golf privileges at more than 400 Troon-managed facilities throughout the world for a nominal fee. Over 1,000 reciprocal away rounds have been played by Springdale, mostly in Florida, Arizona, California and Scotland.

“Bringing in Troon brought is a different management structure, but it reinforced to the community that Springdale was investing in the future, that it is growing,” said Dan Scheid, vice president of Springdale’s Board of Governors. “A lot of private clubs went into a dry spell after the last recession. The demographic of people interested in golf was declining and some people were asking the question: ‘Is this a place that’s in it for the long haul?’ We needed to adapt our management model to the times.”

The answer to that question was a resounding “Yes!”

Said Tylus: “After Troon came and began updating operational capabilities, talk increased among the membership about seriously refreshing the club and taking it forward. The construction of the performance center on club grounds by the University is an amenity of great benefit, and the response of the university to our strategic plan has been supportive.

Between the operational changes, excellent course conditions, and the addition of modern learning facilities, there is a noticeable, exciting atmosphere around the club.

The new performance center boasts locker rooms for the Princeton men’s and women’s teams as well as four hitting bays including a technology bay with Trakman and a golf simulator which is used year-round. Outside, a new practice area fronting the 13-year-old clubhouse patio is in the works. The area includes a new putting green, as well as chipping, pitching and sand-play areas. The patio itself will be expanded forward. The entire project ties in with the three-year-old performance center, which is stationed to the right of the clubhouse.

“The new chipping, putting and bunker area makes total sense to me. It’s the No. 1 amenity every club should be investing in right now. Anyone in the industry would say that at any club: Practice facilities are where you should be putting your funding and activities and make them world class,” said Springdale head PGA professional Keith Stewart.

Troon brought in general manager Anthony Pagliari, PGA, a native of Erie, Pa., who had doubled as a golf pro and assistant general manager of the Rawls Course at Texas Tech University.

“I managed the relationship between the owners, the university, and the members, and tried to grow the game as much as possible. That’s my background. There are similarities here given our Princeton University relationship. They are a terrific partner. Meanwhile, we continue to grow our junior program. Once you get the juniors hooked, it drives membership sales because the families follow.”  

Stewart, the New Jersey PGA Professional of the Year in 2019 and more recently a New Jersey section Bill Strausbaugh awardee (for mentorship of PGA professionals by improving their employment situations), just last year hired Jason Barry as Director of Instruction with his role to include a heavy emphasis on the Junior Program.

Barry, who doubles as head coach for the Rider University men’s team, is a two-time recipient of Golf Digest’s Best Young Teacher in America awards. He was hired to teach individual and group lessons and part of that including taking the lead for Springdale’s junior program.

“In less than a year, the club noticed a huge increase in participants who wanted to learn the game and improve their play. Many members’ children would participate in camp in the morning then return later the same day to play with their families, a common theme at Springdale,” Barry said.

“Increasingly, more are playing tournament golf. They have learned golf with friends and during the stressful 2020 season due to COVID-19, the golf course has proven to be one of the best places to be.”

In fact, Springdale’s current women’s champion is just 15 years old, and a previous girl’s champion is headed to Holy Cross to play college golf.

The result is that more parents are exposed to Springdale and more are joining, especially women. The club’s membership has increased 25 percent in the past 18 months.

“Now, we’re seeing a lot of moms playing. In the past, the dad was the player. Now the moms come along with their kids and families become members,” said Erin Hamrick, a member of the Board of Governors and a member of the LPGA Foundation Board.

“I believe there was a shift in our thinking. We’ve added amenities and focused more on families and juniors. You have to be competitive to attract new members. That has happened here,” she said.

Stewart, who arrived at Springdale in 2009, organized the junior program.

“Whatever we do with families is the fabric of the club,” Stewart said.  “There is a methodology (Operation36golf) that provides a format for introducing kids to golf. We were one of the first clubs in the state to use it. We’ve gone from five families involved to 50 families. It’s turning out to be the lifeblood of the course because we don’t have a pool and we don’t have tennis.”

The “buddy system” has worked as well, where children of members can bring a friend. The friend’s family learns about the club.

“In more cases than I can count the friend’s family has joined. That’s how it’s done, bit by bit. It’s a great way to create this momentum and this interest,” Stewart said.

Stewart thinks the relationship with Troon has worked exceptionally well for both parties.

“This current Board of Governors has spent a lot of time embracing the relationship and learning from it. Change is not a popular word. We’re talking about a club that is 125 years old. From the Board’s perspective, they were being very forward thinking.

“Both sides have built a tremendous partnership toward moving forward and making things better in the name of Princeton community golf,” he stated.

Springdale and its members support broader community interests including Folds of Honor, Christine’s Hope for Kids, and other important initiatives.

Stewart believes in the bright future for Springdale, thanks to a special group of visionaries.

“True leadership is about the ability to bring vision into reality,” he said. “We don’t know what the future may bring, but at Springdale we are headed down a very successful path due to the foresight of that group (Board of Governors).”

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