Blue Ridge Country Club in Palmerton is alive and well, despite rumors to the contrary.
The member-owned club does not plan to shut its doors any time soon, according to manager John Rehus, who responded via a letter following an inquiry from the TIMES NEWS to address the gossip that had been making the rounds in light of last week's board membership meeting.
"Founded in 1915, Blue Ridge Country Club plans to celebrate its 100th birthday in two short years," Rehus said. "Contrary to some rumors that the club's doors will be closing in a couple of days, the club remains open and plans to remain in operation for many years to come."
Since the economic downfall in 2008, the golf industry across the country has been challenged, Rehus said. The number of golfers and rounds played has steadily decreased, not just at Blue Ridge but everywhere, he said.
According to figures recently released by the Pellucid Corporation, www.pellucidcorp.com, golf lost nearly 2 million golfers in 2011 and 400,000 more in 2012, which represents 10 percent of the total number of golfers in just two years, Rehus said.
He said there are several red flags, the biggest one being the demographic group that saw the largest percentage decline was juniors. In other words, the desperately needed replacements for aging golfers are not taking up the game, Rehus said. In addition, as the number of golf courses increased during the strong years, the number of golfers is dropping, said Rehus, who added that the supply exceeds the demand, and the competition among golf courses has driven the cost of a round of golf down significantly.
Blue Ridge Country Club was founded by the New Jersey Zinc Company in 1915, and was a nine-hole golf course until 1990. After building nine additional holes, Blue Ridge became well known for its challenging layout and course conditions. In 2003, a new $2.5 million clubhouse was constructed overlooking the golf course and the Blue Ridge mountainside. The golf industry was booming and the club was in a growth mode, Rehus said.
The economic downturn of 2008 hit the golf industry hard, said Rehus, who noted that rounds played at Blue Ridge dropped from 29,000 a year to 18,000 over the next several years. Membership decreased from 450 to 200 during the same period of time, he said.
The quality of the golf course and clubhouse, along with the strength and support of the core membership, kept the club healthy, Rehus said. Dues income declined, but the bar, restaurant and golf shop income remained steady, while banquets, golf outings, an increase in social membership and dedicated core members helped keep Blue Ridge profitable, he said.
However, Rehus said continuing efforts to keep fixed expenses stable, while dues revenue continued to decrease, has now forced the membership to look at alternatives.
The club is making a concentrated effort to restructure its long-term debt in order to make the club profitable once again, and is actively seeking investors to stabilize and develop a business plan, or sell the club to interested buyers, he said. Regardless of the outcome, BRCC will remain a golf facility, Rehus said.
Joining a private club like Blue Ridge Country Club has many benefits, such as better course conditions, more availability, camaraderie among fellow members, faster pace of play (under four hours), a variety of competitive tournaments, and more, said Rehus, who added that the pace of play is the biggest complaint golfers have, and playing in under four hours versus playing in five or more hours is a significant benefit.
Rehus said plans for the future include building the membership base, increasing the restaurant and banquet business, increasing rounds played, making facility improvements (wedding gazebo, driving range), and most of all, hosting its 100th anniversary party.
For more information on the club, visit www.blueridgecountryclub.net.