Published February 09. 2012 4:00AM
Everyone remembers a childhood fairy tale where the lovely, young princess is held prisoner in the tower by evil forces, yearning for salvation from her hero, when, suddenly and fortuitously, the White Knight appears on the horizon, ready to save the princess and her virtue from the Snidely Whiplashes of the world. In business, a White Knight is sometimes a "friendly investor" who acquires a firm in crisis and rebuilds that firm into viability.
I don't care which version you prefer but they both seemed like fantasy to me as members of the former New London Country Club and I struggled to find ways to save our beloved institution from financial ruin. It had become clear to me that we were incapable of mustering the financial clout needed to perform such a resuscitation and many of us had, frankly, given up on the idea. The only possibility was the unlikely emergence of the so-called White Knight and not many of us were willing to stake the family jewels on that proposition.
Well, I am here to tell you the unlikely appears to have transpired. I believe the White Knight has arrived and his name is Dave Mortimer. Mortimer, a Waterford resident, recently purchased the golf course for $2.8 million and his plans to reinvigorate the club are nothing short of inspirational if your desire is to be a member of a high quality private golf course at rates so reasonable, you would be hard pressed to find a reason not to join.
Mortimer has announced his plans to keep the club private but also to make sure that the course is seen as a community resource by improving appropriate access that opens the course to more people while leaving membership access largely unaffected.
Mortimer, whose triumph in business is a true American success story in itself, is not easily self deluded and is fully aware of the challenges posed by a declining membership, a stalled economy and the need to provide an updated experience to a new generation of golfers. But he has answers. Boy, does he have answers. One meeting with Mortimer and it's hard not to be swept up in his enthusiasm as he outlined to me his vision for the future of the club.
The name has been changed to Great Neck Country Club for reasons that involve the financial issues surrounding the old club. Some older members will be mildly annoyed with the change but, frankly, they will get over it when they see how Mortimer intends to blend the rich tradition of the former NLCC with the new and improved venture he has in mind. Mortimer asked me how I felt about the name change and I told him he could call it Dave's Excellent Adventure if that's what he wanted. I was getting my golf course back and the naming is not a deal breaker for me.
Mortimer's biggest plans start with an important notion; he is firmly committed to keeping the golf course in the pristine condition that golfers in the area have become used to. The work of former superintendent Dan Rogers will be continued and, in fact, it was Rogers who spent considerable time in the vetting and hiring of the new superintendent, Dave Ryan.
This requires a major financial commitment and Mortimer has expressed his willingness to put his money where his vision is. He is already poised to make a half a million dollar investment in a improved parking, a renovated clubhouse and locker room, a significant upgrade in dining facilities designed to improve member service and attract public events to Great Neck CC. To that end he has retained the highly respected Butch Langley to oversee that operation.
Head professional Kevin Shea will return to lead golf operations at the new club, much to the satisfaction of both old members and new who hold Shea in high esteem for his highly professional manner and his genuine care for the club and its members.
Yeah, but how much is all this going to cost you might ask. At $2,700 for a single membership, $3,700 for a family membership and the unbelievable low price of $1,500 for golfers aged 22 to 35, it seems like Great Neck CC is as they say "priced to sell." Mortimer is already making innovative attempts to get the word out to prospective members, teaming with club member James Nicholas of Easy Web Creations to build a new website GreatNeckgolf.com, where you can currently see Mortimer's video message to prospective members and where you can also provide contact information. Nicholas and Mortimer will be using the site as well as other social media to keep members informed. Mortimer himself will be holding an informational meeting for prospective members and interested parties at Great Neck CC on Saturday at 2 p.m.
I asked Mortimer why he had decided to make such a major investment in a local institution and his answer rang totally genuine to me. He said it was a chance to do something good for the area he grew up in and, perhaps more important, it would be an opportunity for this to become a Mortimer family enterprise, one in which he and his wife Ann, along with their children can work together in common cause. Spend five minutes with Dave Mortimer and you will quickly realize the value his family holds for him.
Will it work? Can this successful businessman take all his acumen and apply it to an industry that is in distress on a national level. Can he make a small middle class private club be a long-term success given the many obstacles he will face? Mortimer knows that he will take some financial lumps initially but he does bring something that this club has desperately lacked for a few years now, a feeling of stability. The lack of that stability has plagued this small club, dominating the culture and conversation to the point that it had such a debilitating effect on member morale that many simply left, unhappy with escalating fees and random assessments. With that issue put to rest, can Mortimer convince young and old prospective members that his model can work? All I can say is this. I have met the man twice to discuss the future of the place I love. My reaction? I have written my membership check. I'm all in. I am going to be a proud member of Great Neck Country Club.
It is going to be an exciting ride.