Waterford - For the time being, golfers on the first tee at Great Neck Country Club might have to deal with the occasional hum of a sliding saw during their backswings - but it's a safe bet no one is complaining.
After the former New London Country Club was taken over by Dime Bank in December when it couldn't make its mortgage payments, Ann and David Mortimer purchased the course in an all-cash sale for $2.8 million.
The longtime Waterford residents have since taken over operations of the Lamphere Road golf course and have started extensive upgrades to its clubhouse, which holds a pro shop, restaurant and banquet facility.
Their purchase also ended a period of uncertainty for the course's members. David Mortimer said Tuesday that membership, which dwindled below 200 at one point last year, is up to 315 at the private course.
"I hated to see something local that was once so thriving do so poorly," Mortimer said. "We're headed for perpetually unstable economic times. The model has to be that you're going to plan a great course and you're going to get customer-friendly service. It's not going to be financially burdensome."
Mortimer said his family has aimed to achieve this by offering lower annual fees to attract new members and to entice old New London members to return.
For example, a single adult membership, with tax included, costs $2,970, and an associate membership - for golfers ages 22 to 35 - costs $1,650. There are no initiation fees for members.
Club officials previously said that former New London members were required to pay an initiation fee of $6,000 along with annual fees. Members were also asked to pay special assessments to keep the club in operation.
The Mortimers are hopeful that improvements and renovations to the pro shop, restaurant and banquet facility will bring in new business. They have hired Reagan Home Improvement to remake the clubhouse façade from brick to one with a mix of stone and cedar-impression siding. Renovations, which Mortimer said would cost approximately $1 million, will include extension of the building's roof.
The Mortimers also brought in Brian Langley, the former longtime food and beverage manager at Groton Inn and Suites, to run the new restaurant, Langley's. Some zoning approvals are yet to come from the town, but all of the facilities could be open at some point in June, Mortimer said.
"We're going to make our facilities open to the public as well as the members because financially it doesn't make sense otherwise," he said.
Mortimer, 52, is a 1978 Waterford High School graduate and is the CEO of Firth Rixson Ltd., which sells specialty metals and other products primarily to the aerospace industry.
He called the purchase of the course a family decision. His wife, Ann, handles the course's day-to-day operations and the couple's eldest son, Kurtis, is working at the course and will eventually take over, his father said.
Before the Mortimers purchased the course, New London Country Club had been owned by its members since 1925. In 2003, the club made more than $4 million in improvements to its clubhouse and irrigation system and added a new practice range and lengthened the course by 200 yards.
The improvements left the course $4.3 million in debt and eventually led Dime Bank to take it over in a deed in lieu of foreclosure.
Recently, members have been pleased the course has moved beyond its financial uncertainty, according to the club's PGA professional, Kevin Shea. He became the head pro at New London in 1997.
"They didn't know where they were going to be this year," Shea said. "It has that feel of a grand opening, and when I go away everybody is asking me about the club. There's a lot of positive energy here."