Challenges remain for private Grand Forks Country Club

In many ways the Grand Forks Country Club is still recovering from the 1997 flood. The private club nestled along the Red River and surrounded by farmland south of Grand Forks sustained significant damage in the flood and is still paying off debt...

Grand Forks Country Club
Herald photo by John Stennes

In many ways the Grand Forks Country Club is still recovering from the 1997 flood.

The private club nestled along the Red River and surrounded by farmland south of Grand Forks sustained significant damage in the flood and is still paying off debt incurred by the repairs.

Increased competition has siphoned off some membership since the King's Walk Golf Course opened in 2002 after dike construction forced downsizing of the municipal Lincoln Park Golf Course.

Board and staff members acknowledge the non-profit country club faces a number of challenges. But they say the country club is still financially viable and is in the process of charting a promising course for the future.

"We're working very hard to make sure we're providing a product that finds its place in the community and ensures the long-term viability of the Grand Forks Country Club," said Jon Handy, a former board member who is part of a long-range planning committee charged with envisioning the club's future. "There is a place for us. We just need to continue to work to make sure we understand what that place is and that we deliver a great product at a reasonable investment."


The planning committee, convened about a month ago, will gather feedback from members and the community in an effort to find out what is necessary to retain current members, attract new ones and continue to improve the club and its facilities.

Board president Derrick Johnson said the club plans to modify the golf course in the future to mitigate recurring flooding damage. He said there have been conversations about updating the country club building, which opened along with the course in 1964. Before then, there had been a country club in East Grand Forks.

"We have a 47-year-old building that has been well used for all these years," Johnson said. "Like any building like this, there comes a time when you have to continue to make investments, which we have done in this facility over the years, or look at replacing it at some point. That is definitely part of the discussion of what our building facility will look like in the future."

Financial challenges

Johnson declined to disclose financial or membership data for the private club, but he said setting and meeting a budget presents an annual challenge.

"We're facing struggles financially," he said. "But we are not on the brink of bankruptcy. We pay all our bills. We are able to cash flow and cover our expenses. I have no doubt that this club financially will survive and will be here five years from now, 10 years from now, 15 years from now."

Any profit the club makes is invested back into the facility. Members share in the cost of operating the club. Dues are adjusted each year based upon expenses and the club's financial needs. Those dues have risen in the last decade, Johnson said.

"We target breaking even each year," Johnson said. "We're not out here to make a profit. We are out here to provide a service and experience for our members."


Increased competition

King's Walk was added by the Grand Forks Park District after dike construction following the 1997 flood forced the municipal Lincoln Park Golf Course to be reconfigured from 18 holes to 9 holes with a 6-hole kids' course. Johnson said the country club has lost some more casual golfing members to the new public course and has fewer members today than it did a decade ago.

"There certainly are a number of golfers that are former members here that King's Walk was an alternative for them," Johnson said. "A lot of people have chosen to go there and play their golf there instead of out here. It's somewhat less expensive to play golf there. For someone who maybe doesn't golf as much or someone that didn't have as much concern about the access to the course, it was a good alternative choice for them."

In addition to King's Walk, Valley Golf Course in East Grand Forks, Lincoln Golf Course and the 9-hole Ray Richards Golf Course at UND offer plenty of affordable options for local golfers.

"We have a very supportive core group of members who feel Grand Forks needs a club like ours to provide golf and the social and business aspect," Johnson said. "Our communities are growing. There are enough people here to support all the courses."


Despite facing its share of obstacles, country club proponents say they remain optimistic about the future.

They tout the beauty of the secluded course and its mature landscaping as well as convenient access to the course for members and a more relaxed atmosphere than public courses.


"The golf course is outstanding with the location and condition of the course," Johnson said. "With a private club we have unbelievable access to the course. That's something you really can't get anywhere else in town. I can decide I want to golf this afternoon and come out and the course is available to me. A lot of our members also like that they don't have to worry about being rushed by other groups."

Board member Sadie Gardner said the country club provides new members of the community and young professionals an opportunity to network and meet new people.

"It's great because it connects people across generations," Gardner said. "Being a parent with younger children, it is a nice way to meet a lot of other individuals in the community."

Johnson said the stereotypical view of country clubs as a "stuffy old men's club" no longer applies. "It's a fun place," he said. "It's a vibrant place. It's a place for people to get away and relax."

In addition to the 18-hole golf course, the club also includes a driving range, pro shop, kitchen, dining area and a bar area.

The golf course is typically open from mid April until sometime in October. The clubhouse, open year round, hosts events, including weddings, fundraisers and holiday parties. The club recently began allowing nonmembers to book events at the facility.

Local residents must be members or be accompanied by a member to play the course. Out-of-towners may play the course for a fee.

Club supporters say the outdated image of the country club as a place frequented exclusively by middle aged and older men to escape their wives is no longer the case. They say young families go to the club together and spend time golfing and hanging out. Young children are allowed in the clubhouse and on the course with their parents.


Sam Reznicek, the club's course superintendent, said he often brings his 3-year-old daughter with him on the course, allowing her to drive the golf cart while sitting on his lap. He said his daughter enjoys looking for turtles and birds and searching for golf balls in the rough.


"The biggest hurdle we have is people getting older and moving on to other activities or other stages of life," Johnson said.

With the multitude of entertainment and leisure activities available today, there is more competition in the marketplace.

In order to secure its long-term future, the country club continues to look for new ways to engage and remain relevant to younger golfers.

"The golf industry is struggling to get the next generation not only to start golfing, but to get them to find the time to continue to play golf," Reznicek said. "With all the other things going on these days, you have to find a way to get (young people and young families) out here and to want to play golf in a timely fashion."

Schuster reports on business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107, or email . Follow Schuster on Twitter at @RyanSchuster.

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