A View With A Room

At 25 years old, the Bolingbrook Park District’s 10th Hole Pub at its Boughton Ridge Golf Course in southwest suburban Chicago was long in the tooth.

Outings were under a tent pavilion, subject to Mother Nature’s whims. The 2,000-square-foot pub was essentially a bar--with no separate dining area--and could seat only 48. Officials believed a clubhouse not only would draw in new business--including banquets and business meetings--but also would draw more golfers to the nine-hole executive course.

So far, the new Ashbury’s at Boughton Ridge, which opened in late March 2008, has done both.

The End Result

PHN Architects of Wheaton, Ill., with expertise in recreational facilities, designed the new 15,500-square-foot clubhouse to resemble a North Woods lodge. It includes a 45-seat lounge with a fireplace and four televisions, a pro shop, locker rooms and a 50-seat restaurant. The outdoor patio seats 64--many more than before--and offers views of the golf course.

The second floor houses dual banquet- and business-meeting rooms as well as an outdoor balcony with panoramic golf course views.

Technologically speaking, the district planned ahead. The entire facility is wireless, and the meeting/banquet facilities are ready for presentations of all kinds, with drop-down screens, an easy-to-use touch panel, remote-control room setup and automatic window shades to dim the rooms.

A virtual-golf simulator lets golfers “play” exotic courses around the world. And parking has increased dramatically, from 87 to 163 spots.

A New Revenue Stream

From the outset, revenue generation drove design choices. “Our facilities all pay their own ways,” says Ray Ochromowicz, district director of parks and recreation. “The flat golf market meant we weren’t deriving revenue from the golf course. Our aim was to expand the pub and generate more business.”

“Bolingbrook officials challenged the conventional thinking that food and beverage associated with golf cannot produce revenue,” adds PHN Principal Dan Nicholas, lead architect for the project. “Food service doesn’t have to be a loss leader, supplemented by golf revenues, which is what many industry people believe.”

PHN’s design forwards those revenue goals. Most golf course clubhouses allocate 30 percent of square-footage to golf and 70 percent to food and beverage needs. “Ashbury’s is more like 10 percent/90 percent,” Nicholas says. “It’s a restaurant on a golf course, drawing in the community, not a ‘golf-course restaurant.’”

“We promote this as a quick round and the best burger in town,” says Jim Sawyer, Ashbury’s food and beverage manager. “We have good service and a quality product.”

“This is an executive course, with an existing clientele,” Ochromowicz points out. “It’s not a destination facility, drawing people from 25 miles away. We’re community-based, with strong leagues that like what we offer here.”

Broadening Horizons

Seeing an unmet need in the area, Bolingbrook also wanted to tap into the banquet- and business-meeting market. Previously, banquets--90 percent of which were golf outings--were strictly outdoor affairs. At one point, the district’s own women’s golf league was holding its season-end banquet somewhere else. And obviously, space and technology to host business meetings didn’t exist.

Ashbury’s two rooms can accommodate approximately 20 and 60 people, the combined space up to 100. “We’re serving a niche,” says Jim Patula, Bolingbrook’s director of buildings, grounds and natural resources. “There’s really nothing of this size in the area.” The only other local options are either higher-priced or not as well-appointed.

Area residents have responded positively. Before the doors opened, Bolingbrook had 116 banquets and two weddings booked--based only on floor plans, menus and the district’s reputation. Bookings have continued at a brisk pace, many on the strength of word-of-mouth.

“Showers are huge,” says Sawyer. “People love our spaces for showers and for other special events, such as christenings and anniversaries.” Golf league members enjoyed season-end outings there as well. (Small locker rooms--not necessarily typical for clubhouses at public courses--provide facilities for golfers to shower and change for after-golf banquets.)

Bolingbrook even hosts its own events, such as Football Sundays and Fantasy Football League gatherings. Business bookings are coming.

The new golf simulator was an unknown quantity as of late fall, with interest in leagues less than had been anticipated. Officials believed that situation would change once the golf course closed. District officials noted it is too soon to draw a definitive revenue picture.

Definitive Areas

With wireless capabilities throughout, Sawyer says he’s seen an increase in casual business use, with people ordering a meal and quietly working in the restaurant or pub. “Ashbury’s can be the go-to mobile office, another Starbucks,” says Nicholas.

“I had a meeting with a vendor, and he showed up 90 minutes early,” Sawyer says. “He just wanted to sit in a nice, comfortable place, drink coffee, and catch up on his work.”

The old pub was quite popular. “We had cars parked into the residential neighborhood,” explains Sawyer. “During Lent, people waited 45 minutes. We had to be doing something right.”

But it was, at its heart, “more like a neighborhood bar,” Ochromowicz says. “There was no separation between the bar and the restaurant, and as the night wore on, topics and language were not appropriate for kids. We wanted something not only larger, but also family-friendly.”

Ashbury’s fills the bill, officials agree.

Now, with construction complete and the doors open, tips were offered for those contemplating a similar construction project:

· Identify technology needs upfront, and provide for them from the beginning. “If not, everything afterwards is haphazard and costly,” says Ron Oestreich, superintendent of revenue facilities.

· Involve the architect with IT needs and desires from the beginning, advises Nicholas. “In fact, consider assigning the role of coordinating technology needs directly to the architect,” he recommends. The Ashbury’s project involved no fewer than six technology vendors, all coordinated by PHN and contractor W.B. Olson.

· “Make sure you go in with an idea of the staffing you’ll need when you expand,” says Oestreich. “We thought we’d need a few more people here and there,” agrees Sawyer. “We quickly determined we were understaffed.” In fact, for the first time, the operation required a manager on duty.

· Plan for the future. Ashbury’s has data ports, outlets and satellite receivers in place, if necessary. There’s room to expand outdoor seating, important in a state where indoor smoking is banned. “Think about your future needs, what you’ll need five years down the road,” says Oestreich.

Of course, with golf rounds still down, with the economy suffering--and with the new clubhouse open only one spring and summer season--it’s too early to declare Ashbury’s an unequivocal success from a revenue standpoint.

“Overall, we’re thrilled,” says Patula. “Golf rounds are up. There are a lot of new faces, as well as the regulars coming through the door.”

“From layout, to design, to the furnishings, we have a beautiful immaculate facility,” says Sawyer, who regards Ashbury’s as somewhat of his personal baby.

“The biggest thing for me is when I see the public come in here, and I see people’s faces. They knew what we had, and then they see this--and we just wowed them. That’s what we were looking for.”

Beth Bales is a writer associated with PHN Architects, an award-winning architectural firm that specializes in the design of recreational facilities, including aquatic centers, recreational centers and golf course clubhouses. Her story, “Off-Season Greens,” on ways to increase revenues at park- and forest preserve district-owned golf course facilities during the off-season, received Illinois Parks & Recreation’s award for “Best Facilities Management Article” for 2003. She lives in Geneva, Ill., a western-Chicago suburb, and may be reached at (630) 232-7912.