HEISER: Under new ownership and management, Out Door Country Club plans improvements

  • Out Door Country Club in Manchester Township was sold recently.
  • A group of 60 Out Door members purchased the club.
  • The club operations have been leased to Links Asset Trust.
  • Approximately $1 million in club improvements are planned over the next four years.
Out Door Country Club in Manchester Township, Friday, May 22, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

It’s no big secret that the golf industry has struggled in recent decades.

Since the halcyon days in the late 1990s, the sport has largely fought a losing battle to maintain that momentum.

The result has been a general decline in golfers and rounds played, despite a slight national uptick in 2019. Not surprisingly, that has led to few course openings and lots of course closings.

York County has not been immune to the trend.

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Since the golf boom ended about 15 years ago, Copper Beech Golf Club, formerly known as Red Lion Country Club, and Hawk Lake Golf Club, formerly known as Yorktowne Golf Club, have closed in York County, as has Gettysburg Country Club in Adams County. A couple other York County courses (Little Creek and Bridgewater) that used to be 18-hole facilities now feature just nine holes.

The most-recently-built York County course was Royal Manchester Golf Links back in 2010.

There have also been loads of rumors about the uncertain futures of the other remaining area courses, both public and private.

Out Door Country Club in Manchester Township, Friday, May 22, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Out Door is sold: One of the local clubs battling golf’s general decline has been Out Door Country Club, which has been a York County institution for 128 years.

In early March, the club was sold and the new ownership/management group has launched a long-term strategic plan to reinvigorate the club, which has been at its current location in Manchester Township since the late 1950s. In addition to the golf course and clubhouse, the club also features a pool and tennis courts, as well as restaurant/banquet/wedding facilities.

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A group of 60 Out Door members formed the Out Door Equity Group, led by Bob Davis and Jerry Watson, to purchase the club. Links Asset Trust, a private investment group, has entered into a long-term lease agreement to operate the club. The 60 members own the land and facilities, while the club is licensed to and leased by Links Asset Trust. The sale price was not disclosed.

Out Door Country Club in Manchester Township, Friday, May 22, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Tip of the spear:” Frank Denniston, a founding partner of Links Asset Trust, believes the new operating agreement will breathe new life into Out Door.

 “Country clubs around the U.S. have struggled to retain members and attract golfers.  Out Door was no exception,” Denniston said. “Its membership has fallen by about half over the last six years and it was experiencing financial turbulence.  We have positioned Links Asset Trust to embrace the club’s 128-year tradition, while adding amenities that appeal to the families of central Pennsylvania. The golf industry recognizes the need for change and Links Asset Trust is the tip of the spear of this initiative.”

Denniston said the sale was finalized March 2, just two weeks before the state’s golf industry was shut down for six weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Out Door Country Club in Manchester Township, Friday, May 22, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Improvements planned: Denniston said the club made the move because the members wanted to to retire the club debt and revitalize amenities. Over the next four years, approximately $1 million in facility improvements are planned.

“We have already started to upgrade mechanical systems, replacing bridges and renovating the clubhouse, pool and outdoor eating areas, among other things,” Denniston said. “In addition, we have commenced an in-depth analysis to determine the feasibility of converting a 19th-century tobacco barn on the property from storage to an event venue.”

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Links Asset Trust, based in Florida, specializes in operating private clubs and leases three other clubs in Indiana (Country Club of Indianapolis), Virginia (Hidden Valley Country Club) and North Carolina (Pine Island Country Club). The firm was founded in 2016 and specializes in recapitalizing and restoring longtime private clubs and resorts.

On solid financial footing: Denniston said he believes Out Door is on solid financial footing and that there are no plans to close the course or open it to public play.

“Our membership is growing and Out Door Country Club is one of the few debt-free clubs in central Pennsylvania,” Denniston said.

Denniston said Out Door, as of late last week, had 221 golf members and 137 social members. Thus far, Dennison said those club members have been pleased with what they’ve seen.

“The membership had tremendous input on our plan for success, including which amenities to focus on for capital improvements. Out Door Country Club members have embraced our presence and adopted our plan to re-energize their experience.”

It certainly seems as if the Out Door members and Links Asset Trust have a plan in place to revitalize the venerable club. 

Only time will tell, however, if they can buck the strong winds blowing against the golf industry these days.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com