Raleigh Country Club: A Rebirth

By Michael J. Fay

In early 2003 the Raleigh Country Club was forced to file for bankruptcy after the Club had committed to an expansion plan of a new clubhouse and swimming facility in 2000. The remodeling project was part of an overall plan to raise the quality of all the facilities at Raleigh to simply stay competitive. Unfortunately, external and internal factors and an already existing high debt structure contributed to the significant and rapid downward spiral of the club, know as Donald Ross’s last design. During bankruptcy the Board of Directors hired Christian Anastasiadis as General Manager, who is a seasoned “club turn-around” specialist to assist with court proceedings and to facilitate a possible sale of the club.

Only few months prior to the date of the court ruling, local businessman John McConnell stepped up and secured with his purchase commitment a re-birth of a milestone in golf history. McConnell immediately went about to set things straight. Around Christian Anastasiadis, General Manager and Michael Shoun, Course Superintendent a new team of professionals was put in place. Vision and Mission was formulated, coinciding with immediate tangible and intangible capital expenditures to enhance the value of membership. Costs and benefits were analyzed and the Club embarked on establishing a new operating system and honed a new and much sharper image in the community.

The major asset of the Club is the 1947 Donald Ross golf course, which had been sliced and diced by some earlier Architectural foibles and a hurricane or two. The fairways had become scant and tired due to a lack of proper irrigation. At one time in the 1950’s a prominent member of the club took a harrow disk to a number of fairways and flattened them dead. The bunkering was pretty much scattershot, reflecting numerous styles and shapes that came from numerous playbooks, but not Ross’s.

All was not lost; the course has wonderful topography moving graciously up and down a couple of gentle hillocks. The routing was intact and the greens were pretty much original. Overall the original club assets were well maintained and protected by Michael Shoun. What the course needed was a vision and a monetary commitment.

Well, McConnell provided the cash and Pinehurst Architect Richard Mandell provided the care. Richard carefully researched the Raleigh Country Club at the Tufts Archives and went about a plan of renovation and restoration. Richard succeeded in adding about 400 yards to the course yet retained the theme and the flavor of Ross throughout. He skillfully identified and squared the tees, re-established the feel and the playability of the bunkering and assisted in the planning and instillation of a state of the art irrigation system. The greens have been and remain the central feature of the course. They are stern and undulating and much faster than most found in North Carolina.

Richard has also drawn a plan for the uncovering of a stream that was dammed at several points on the course creating a number of small ponds. When implemented, these hidden hazards will disappear and the original stream will once again flow throughout the property.

Perhaps the most artistic work that Richard Mandell accomplished was the undoing of the effects of the harrow disk. In numerous places he craftily sculpted the land and made it look as if the landscape had been there forever. The landscaping that Mandell did is very subtle and extremely complementary to its surrounds. It improved the scenic views of the course while tying in to a myriad of shot values. Where there was once a bleak vista from many tees there is now a vibrant flow. This is work very well done.

Christian Anastasiadis reports that today the club is extremely “nouveau” in the City of Oaks underscoring the club’s vision of pure golf for the true golfer. The clubhouse facility is beautifully adorned and laid out in a fashion to handle nearly every type of event. The membership has risen fairly steadily since the arrival of McConnell to a point that it now enjoys a waiting list. The club adheres to the philosophy of conservative membership growth, protecting the distinct small club atmosphere at a quality-oriented level. Initiation fees and dues were adjusted.

The Pro Shop Staff led by PGA Professional Jason Baile is the flagship of the club’s service operation. From the moment a member or guest arrives at the Raleigh Country Club, the experienced staff is on hand to enhance the overall enjoyment at the Club. That same friendly and attentive service flows over to the employees in the locker room and dining facilities.

The Raleigh Country Club has come a very long way in a very short time. From the brink of extinction to top class operating facility usually takes a lot longer than three years. Congratulations to Richard Mandell, John McConnell and a superb management team for this miraculous rebirth.

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