The new operator of the state’s two golf courses is putting a priority on retaining staff from the former management firm slated to exit at the end of the year.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control formally announced last week that the DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation partnered with Troon St. James, LLC to manage operations of the Deerfield and Garrisons Lake golf clubs, both owned by the state. Troon will assume operations under their affiliate Indigo Sports.
State Parks and Recreation Director Ray Bivens said last week Troon made it clear its top priority is retaining current staff.
Bivens said the process that selected Troon over current manager Forewinds Hospitality was based on quality and financial considerations, with each considered separately to avoid one influencing the other. While other management companies expressed interest, the bidding came down to Troon and Forewinds, Bivens said.
Forewinds, which had managed Deerfield for 18-years and Garrison’s Lake for 12, earned high marks from golfers and others for its staff and customer service. That’s not commonplace among public courses owned by governmental units.
Forewinds managed the sites during the difficult early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, where, at one point, business was being lost to Maryland, due to its less stringent restrictions on weddings and other events.
Bivens noted that on the quality side, multinational operator Troon, among other things, would be able to employ agronomists to maintain and improve the condition of golf courses.
Both Bivens and DNREC Director Shawn Garvin praised the former operator.
“Forewinds Hospitality has been a terrific partner for nearly 20 years and we thank them for their valuable contributions over the years. They have done a tremendous job of managing and improving golf operations and event services for the DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation,” said Garvin. “We look forward to working with Troon as one of the top golf course management organizations in the country as they continue to build on the success of the Deerfield and Garrisons Lake golf clubs.”
In messages to its customers, Forewinds was gracious in acknowledging that it had come out on the losing end of the bid and went on to praise the work of its staff during an uncertain period during the request for proposals process. That was not the case when DNREC awarded a contract at a coastal Delaware marina to the state’s largest locally owned restaurant operator.
For Troon, Forewinds and other managers, retaining staff remains a challenge as a labor shortage persists in the hospitality industry.
“We are thrilled about this new partnership with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and we’re very much looking forward to the future of Deerfield Golf Club and Garrisons Lake Golf Club,” said Troon Vice President of Operations Justin Smith. “As we move toward assuming management operations in 2024, we expect a seamless transition for employees, golfers, guests, pass holders and friends of Deerfield and Garrisons Lake.”
As part of the new management agreement, Troon will invest a percentage of their revenue into making capital improvements at both courses. The agreement with DNREC and the State of Delaware expires at the end of 2038 and may be extended for an additional 10 years.
The contract includes management of operations for the golf courses, pro shops, conference facilities, banquet rooms, restaurants and bars.
Also, improvements are under way at Garrisons Lake that include a new cart barn and a 4,300-square-foot clubhouse. The clubhouse will feature a pro shop, restrooms, pub and grill, and indoor/outdoor dining. That course has seen its challenges in a crowded Dover-area market.
Troon manages more than 825 18-hole equivalent golf courses around the globe, including nine in Delaware – Bayside Resort Golf Club in Selbyville, Bear Trap Dunes Golf Club in Ocean View, Delcastle Golf Club in Wilmington, Ed Oliver Golf Club in Wilmington, Fieldstone Golf Club in Greenville, Heritage Shores Golf Club in Bridgeville, Plantation Lakes Golf & Country Club in Millsboro, Rock Manor Golf Course in Wilmington, and the Peninsula Golf & Country Club in Millsboro.
The par 72 William Gordon-designed course at Deerfield Golf Club occupies 145 acres at White Clay Creek State Park in Newark and offers elevation changes, while the par-72 Garrisons Lake Golf Club course encompasses 160 acres of well-bunkered, undulating greens in Smyrna, a DNREC release stated.
The Newark-area course was developed and owned by DuPont Co. and was known as Louviers. DuPont later sold its Louviers office site and the course to credit card giant MBNA, which renovated the clubhouse and renamed it Deerfield. MBNA sold the course to the state amid fears that the site would be converted to a subdivision. MBNA’s successor Bank of America operates an employment site near Deerfield.
Similar concerns led to the sale to the state of Garrison’s Lake in the Dover area.
Bivens said Delaware stands out from other states in the management of its state-owned courses, thanks to investments and good management. He noted that the public Deerfield course has the look and field of a high-end country club and took note of improvements, including a new roof at the clubhouse.
Golf has seen a surge in popularity that started during the pandemic as Americans moved toward outdoor activities. At the same time, Deerfield has fewer competitors as golf courses of various sizes fell victim to changing lifestyles. That led to properties such as Cavaliers, Hercules, Three Little Bakers and Brandywine in northern Delaware being sold to developers, followed by regulatory battles with neighbors concerned about the loss of green space.