North Fork golf course owners hope four clubs, one price will boost business

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Baiting Hollow Club's 25,000 square-foot clubhouse was developed by the global architectural firm Hart/Howerton and further developed by architect Rob Stromski of Rocky Point.

Back in the 1990s, new golf courses were a common site on Long Island, as the industry appeared to be booming.

But when the economy went south, golf courses weren’t immune, and some were even shut down and sold to developers.

Now a couple of golf clubs in Riverhead Town are planning to fight the economic doldrums together.

Olde Vine Golf Club on Reeves Avenue in Riverhead and the Baiting Hollow Club on Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow are unveiling a new plan where anyone who buys a full equity membership at Olde Vine before Dec. 15 will also get a full membership at Baiting Hollow.

An existing arrangement Olde Vine has with The Links at Cherry Creek and the Woods at Cherry Creek will also apply to the members of both clubs. Currently, Olde Vine members can play at the two Cherry Creek clubs, which are public courses, for no additional cost, according to Ed Wankel, the general manager at Olde Vine and a former county parks commissioner.

“Baiting Hollow was having some financial problems, which is no secret,” Mr. Wankel said. “So one of the sponsors here at Olde Vine, George Heinlein, along with Neil Rego, who is one of the mortgage holders at the Baiting Hollow Club, decided to jointly purchase Baiting Hollow.”

Baiting Hollow Club had built a new, 25,000-square-foot clubhouse and was planning to build 30 new homes along the course when the economy tanked, Mr. Wankel said. The house lots have not been built.

The Bank of Smithtown initiated foreclosure proceedings against the club’s owners, Rugby Recreational Group, LLC, in 2010.

Mr. Heinlein is a prominent developer in the Riverhead area and Mr. Rego was also one of the owners of Baiting Hollow Club in the past. The Baiting Hollow golf course, which was recently redesigned, was built in 1966 and has been known as Fox Hills Golf & Country Club, Flagg Country Club and Baiting Hollow Country Club in past years.

Both Olde Vine and Baiting Hollow are now private courses.

Olde Vine, which opened in 2003, is an equity membership course, meaning that it’s members bought equity in the club for 10 years, and they will take over the ownership of the club on Jan. 1, 2014, Mr. Wankel said. “So now, if you join Olde Vine as an equity member, you can play all four courses,” Mr. Wankel. “This is probably the only equity club in Suffolk County that I’m aware of.”

The new ownership at Baiting Hollow Club takes over on Dec. 1, and Chris Vene of Wading River will become the general manager of the club then.

“I grew up on this golf course,” Mr. Vene said. His uncle, Mr. Rego, bought the course in 1981 when it was still called Flagg, and Mr. Vene said he worked on the club for three years starting in 1989.

“I’ve been working on golf courses since I was 14,” said Mr. Vene said, who now runs a golf course maintenance company.

“It’s a tough economy for golf right now,” he added. “Golf is probably going through one of it’s worst times ever. If you go back to the 1990s, they did a study that called for 10 more golf courses to be built in Suffolk County. Instead, about 20 were built and they flooded the market.”

The arrangement between Olde Vine and Baiting Hollow will allow the two courses to share equipment and personnel, Mr. Wankel said.

The membership equity costs at Olde Vine, which were once as high as $52,000, are now selling at $9,995, Mr. Wankel said.

“The synergy of having a dual golf course membership with both of those clubs being within three miles of each other is what I believe can make both of them thrive,” Mr. Vene said.

“It’s a lot more economically feasible to be sharing resources for two golf courses in this kind of economy,” Mr. Wankel said.

Olde Vine and Baiting Hollow also are two different types of course, with Olde Vine being a links course and Baiting Hollow, which was designed by the noted golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, a more traditional course, Mr. Vene said.

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