Friday, September 2, 2011

Interview w/Archie Struthers - OC-SP Greate Bay Golf Course

Ocean City - Somers Point Golf Club

The Old Clubhouse at Ocean City-Somers Point Golf Club - Now Greate Bay

Archie Struthers - April 2001

Just back from Augusta the day the Masters tournament began, Archie Struthers is exuberant, full of energy, like a kid on Christmas. Certainly not your typical golf club president, Archie is excited about golf, the game he loves, and he has some things to be excited about. He’s taking his golf club, Greate Bay in Somers Point, private, while at the same time preparing to open a new and exciting course – Twisted Dune, which has his signature all over it.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Archie Struthers moved to South Jersey with his family as a child, and began to caddy when he was eleven years old at Woodcrest Golf course in Cherry Hill, where he worked for Tim DeBaufre, now a pro at Greate Bay. After attending Cherry Hill H.S. and the University of Maryland, he went to graduate school, he says, “to kind of prolong my childhood, because I loved coming down the shore so much.”

Before joining a group on the back nine, Archie took me for a ride around to see Twisted Dune and talked casually about what he’s doing at Great Bay and his thoughts on the future of golf at the Jersey Shore.

Kelly: You were a golf pro for awhile.

Struthers: I was a golf pro for two years. I was in graduate school when I decided to turn pro. I thought I could be a good player and I found out I couldn’t, for whatever reasons. I went down to Florida and was playing pretty good. Then I started to take lessons and started playing worse. I retired because I couldn’t hit it straight. But that may have been a blessing in disguise because these guys are so good, they are such great players. I still have the occasional good round. I’ll break 70 once a year. I’ll break 80, and then I’ll go on the other side as well.

Kelly: You worked at Pine Valley for awhile, what was that like?

Struthers: Pine Valley is a unique place because you’re exposed to some of the great minds in golf every day there, on a regular basis. All the members are from all over the country, not all famous guys. Like the guy from Iowa, who’s just a nice guy, whose good to spend three days with and listen to his philosophies on golf. Mostly it’s all about golf, and a little bit about life. So I think it’s a great learning experience there for anyone, especially when you’re caddying there, because you get to interface with people so directly. It’s not like, “Hey, how are you? Good to see you. Goodbye.”

Now sometimes, I feel that I can’t spend much time with the people here at Greate Bay, as I like because I’m running in too many directions. Hopefully that will change, as I get more employees, and people working here, you don’t need me as much, even though I keep trying to do it. I think we have a great opportunity here to have some fun and be comfortable. As much as Atlantic City had all that tradition, it was a really comfortable place. You came in there and find all different things going on, and lots of action, local events and people from all walks of life. I’m not saying we can emulate that, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and we don’t want to be an exact replica, and we can’t be. But there’s a lot of things that were good and we have a lot of things here that were good to start, and we’re trying to tie it all together and make it a nice club. And I think going private is a big part of that.

Kelly: How did you get from Woodcrest to Pine Valley to Greate Bay?

When I was 27 I went into the real estate business. I have to thank Gene Gatti for the opportunity here. There’s a man who made a deal based on wanting to do something good, not only for the community, but for me, for me to have a chance to do something I love. It wasn’t about the money for him, although we did have to make a good business deal because he’s smart.

He’s just a great guy. I was down his home in Florida this winter and played golf. He breaks his age four or five times a year, and if he could putt better he’d do it more often. He won’t use a long putter and I think he should, but he’s too much of a purist. He’s a very private guy, comes back here every summer and plays with his regular guys.

Kelly: What’s the philosophy of taking Greate Bay private?

Struthers: I still fell that given our location and our ability to prepare good food, have parties and fun, and we have a good golf course. We have a great core of members, some were here when we took over and a lot of them are expatriates from Atlantic City, and a lot of people now from Ocean City. They never realized that this was right in their backyard, and they just didn’t know about it. I think in the long run we have an opportunity to do something kind of unique here, because of our location as much as anything.

Kelly: Atlantic City gave you an influx of members?

Struthers: At the time we had a tremendous influx of members, but we really weren’t ready to take care of them in the style that a lot of them were accustomed to. Thy had a 100 years of preparation over there in running a private club and people that did it for a long, long time, an we were very good at it. Although we did our best, we just weren’t ready to deal with that situation as well as I would have liked. Because our intentions were always good, we kept a core of wonderful golf members who knew that it wasn’t quite what they waned, but knew there was an effort, and there was potential. And now I think we’re beginning to realize some of that potential, finally.

Kelly: The clubhouse is open to the public and has a liquor license and the Pub & Grill has good food and prices.

Struthers: One thing about having a great facility is we can have some really special events at Greate Bay. We’re going to do Wednesday night barbeque gab and golf sessions. I can bring in four or five guys – golf pros, and we hope to get 50 or 75 members to come out for that, and some will just come out to eat. But those guys can teach and talk and tell stories. We have a lot of things planned. Another night we’re going to have a party – a Midsummer’s Night Dream, out in the parking lot with tents. We’re going to have some big bands come in and do a lot of social things.

You have to come to the Greate Bay Pub & Grill. It’s not a stuffy place. It would be pretty hard for me to be too stuffy. It’s just not my MO. Once in awhile I have to put on a suit and tie and go out with my wife to a fundraiser in Atlantic City or someplace, but my wife is much better at that than I am.

Kelly: How will going private affect other things, like the course?

Struthers: I think it’s obvious we’ll have less play than before. It will never be a place that won’t be active. It won’t be anywhere near the level we’ve seen in the last five years, but we are continually improving the course. Superintendent Steve Lane is the head supervisor here at Greate Bay and he helped build Twisted Dune. He’s from North Jersey originally, from a family of superintendents. His father Charlie has also been helping us this winter, and his brother is a superintendent up at Hackensack. It’s a pretty good golf family. Steve was an assistant at Galloway when they built it, and he had two course he ran in Hawaii. He’s an great worker and a really good guy, but it’s hard to get two words out of him if you don’t know him because he’s very quiet. I think he’s made tremendous improvements in the golf course.

Kelly: You have the new Twisted Dune in Egg Harbor Township opening soon, you’ve had this dream and the vision and now you’re making it a reality, what’s that going to be like?

Struthers: I think Twisted Dune will be operationally simple. It’s going to be pretty much just golf. It’s a links type course, unique. We hope it’s going to be less commercialized, come in and have fun, but not play slow! Because I hate that. But come in and hang around awhile. It will have a small clubhouse, almost like the Greate Bay Pub & Grill, same motif, memorabilia, golf stuff on the walls, and hopefully we’ll get all the famous guys in the area, Stan Dudas, Gene Gatti, Tim Debaufree, Billy Care, and have them hanging out there occasionally and bring in some color and add some character to the place, because that’s important. That’s what I’m thinking.

Kelly: Who will be the pro there?

Struthers: It seems we have a million pros working here. We have Don Archer at Hamilton Trails, while here we have Tim DeBaufre, Tom McCarthy, John Appleget, Mike Carson. Mike will be the pro here at Greate Bay, though they all kind of interchange and work together. We have a tremendous amount of experience and talent on that staff. John Appleget is one of our better players and teachers around. Timmy Debaufre is a pretty legendary figure in golf. Tom McCarthy was at Pine Valley, Boneta Bay, Potesta Conch,…we have the best team of pros in the business. There’s also some new assistant pros, Marc Cerniglia and Chris Foster.

Kelly: So you have a lot going, the nine holes at Hamilton Trails, opening Twisted Dune and taking Greate Bay private?

Struthers: It’s interesting for us, because in a lot of ways we have to promote our business, we have to get over the hump and make sure we get enough members for Greate Bay. There’s a fine line between promoting too much and not promoting enough. If it seems like you’re selling everybody, it’s like, “Gee, how private are they?”

Kelly: How many members are you looking for?

Struthers: I don’t have a number in mind. What’s good now is the way our memberships are breaking down. It’s almost splitting down the middle between full members and weekday members. We have a lot of retired people and locals who either work on the weekends around here or don’t want to play on the weekends because they’re here year ‘round.

So if you would have a club where you have 250 full members and 250 weekend members, I mean 250 full members is a very exclusive, private club. So I think that’s a way we can keep our revenues up and dues prices down., because we can offer that weekday and full member plans. The prices vary from $100 to $3500, which is for full members with all the bells and whistles, lockers and stuff. And with the way golf prices are going up, I mean if you’re a member and use the club a lot, at some point it starts to get fairly reasonable.

Kelly: You’re young and seem to support the idea of young people playing golf.

Struthers: Not being an altruist, because we have a nice business and we do well, but golf course are a good thing for the community. It’s somewhere the kids can come and play. We have more kids now than ever, and they’re great players. We have both Mainland and Ocean City play here now. Ocean City’s been here a long time, and now that Larry Silk works here, he asked if Mainland could play here and we said absolutely. It’s going to be interesting to see, and I don’t want to get into trouble because I live in Ocean City, but Mainland has a awful strong team this year and it will be hard to beat them. But in golf you never know what’s going to happen. That’s a pretty good rivalry – Mainland and Ocean City, and now it’s extending beyond the football field to the golf course, which I think is fun. And I like the support we get from the high schools, hosting their banquets and events. We like to support the kids.

And that’s another point about our club memberships that most people don’t realize. If you’re a member at Greate Bay, your kids play for free as long as they’re a student and until they’re out of college. You can’t put a price tag on that.

You come out at 4 o’clock in the afternoon with your ten, eleven, twelve year old, and play five or six holes, whatever their attention span allows. You walk around with them, and spend some quality time together, and I think that’s something we can’t stress enough of. I think we have more young people play here at Greate Bay than any other club in the area, and it’s growing. The kids play on their own. We have twenty to thirty young guys and girls playing regularly. Usually you seem them lugging their bags and playing late in the afternoon. That’s great for us.

Kelly: What do you think is the future of golf at the Jersey Shore.

Struthers: I would say that in the last couple of years the prices got real high real quick, but there’s more competition, so its not like shooting ducks in a pond like it seemed to be. I still think the amount of people that live in the Delaware Valley certainly love to come to the Jersey Shore. Atlantic City is growing slowly, but it’s still continues to grow. The Airport is trying, Borgata is coming, MGM looks like they’re coming. I mean we have 9-10 golf courses close to Atlantic City, while there’s 75 to 90 in Vegas. I see a tremendous opportunity for those golf courses to really become very good at what they do. I’m going to temper that with the fact that I don’t think the state is going to allow them to build too many more, based on water restrictions, though I think that golf courses are much better for the community than housing projects. So in some ways golf courses should be given a break for creating open space, and I wish they’d give us a little tax break.

I think it’s good for a community to have a golf course. I think it certainly benefits Somers Point and I think Twisted Dune will benefit Egg Habor Township.

[Interview with Archie Struthers, first published in Golfers Tee Times, April-May 2001]

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