In the mid-1990’s golf was booming. Groups all over North America were clamoring to get into the business. Many pushed ahead with new golf course projects without any idea if there was really any need for it, or if it would be sustainable. It was also a time when ego drove many design concepts, difficulty was the dominant theme of the day when promoting golf courses. Unfortunately, we soon found out that, short of marketing interest, the concept was not all that attractive to everyday players.
At the time, in Belleville, Ontario, long-established clubs and smaller family run operations were making up the balance of the golf inventory. One group saw the need for something different, but they also knew it would need to stand the test of time.
Apparently, they were right, as the Trillium Wood Golf Club celebrates two decades of existence this year. In doing so they continue to build on the model that they started with – a quality, premium public facility at an affordable price. That, among other things has helped them to get where they are today. Recently we sat down with Trillium Wood Golf Club President Stephen McCurdy to look back at their history, and how they plan to keep moving forward.
“It seems like it was yesterday, “says McCurdy of their 1998 opening as we sit in their clubhouse on a sunny May day. “There’s been a lot of things happen in the golf industry in the last twenty years and I’m pretty proud that we’ve come through the highs and lows of that pretty well. Has it been super easy all the way? Of course not, but it’s pretty cool to be sitting here all these years later saying “’hey, this place is doing okay.’”
Just prior to hitting on the concept McCurdy was living in Toronto and seeing all sorts of new course being developed in that area. He wondered if the notion would fly in his hometown of Belleville, which was growing, and pursued the idea. “We just felt there was a need here. We did some market studies and it said there were some opportunities here if we were willing to take the risk. I guess we were,” he says with a laugh.
When asked to look back on the landmarks of the course development through it’s life, McCurdy does not hesitate to point to the key factor that was the base of everything to come. “Steven Ward (an architect who calls nearby Picton home) designed a great golf course. I think that’s a major reason why we are still here today. Had the golf course not had the ability to satisfy the golfers, we wouldn’t be here. Having a really good product was the key.”
For those who have not had the pleasure to play the course, Trillium Wood is a parkland design set in a deeply wooded tract accented by various water features. Each hole provides a unique test over it’s 6652 yards traversing some 200 acres of the club’s 400-acre property. Elevation changes abound as you roll through the course, with an ample number of tees to accommodate all level of players (starting from 4962 yards) and large greens that bring the satisfaction of more greens in regulation. It’s been of enough quality to host all manner of events from large charity affairs to top amateur and professional championships and qualifiers.
“You can come out and enjoy yourself,” McCurdy expounds on the course’s appeal. “The interest of the course is really strong. He (Ward) really found some good holes out there that take advantage of the natural beauty of the property. Steve did a good job of that.”
While many people look at a golf course as a physical asset, the depth of a course’s success goes well beyond that, a fact McCurdy implicitly recognizes. “The people that you have, working with you, and the staff that you have that are there as the face for the customer, trying to do everything to make their day better than when they arrived. There are many reasons why we are still here but certainly the quality of the course and the people are two big ones.”
One point of pride at Trillium Wood has been the consistency of the product through the years, with an eye to providing improvements when possible. And accomplishing that without driving prices beyond the reach of the key golfer demographic.
McCurdy explains, “As costs have risen we have had to continually provide a better experience, whether that is the conditions, whether that is through GPS on our carts, the restaurant, whatever the experience benefits we can provide, we try to do that to increase value. When we started our first green fee cost was $42 and now our maximum price is $55. Less than a dollar a year so you can see where value is really important.”
The Next Twenty
As the course moves forward they are looking at the golf market differently. “The avid golfer isn’t as prevalent as it used to be,” the course owner asserts. “I do think that is going to change. I think there is a huge beginning to a shift in people’s mindset about the value of golf to more than just an athletic standpoint and how families and young people can benefit from learning the game and thinking of it as a lifetime activity.”
While they are slowly addressing this change with their programming at Trillium Wood, their team also now manages two other facilities, the par three Frankford Golf Course and Roundel Glen Golf Course. That helps them diversify the product they can offer. It’s part of a strategy that helps them keep looking ahead. That’s important considering that in the last two decades approximately another 100 holes of golf sprung up within 70 kilometres of Trillium Wood.
Through it all though, the team at the Corbyville course is proud they made some wise decisions from the start, and continue to try to stay on that path, staying in tune with the market.
“If you don’t focus on why people are here, you can’t prosper,” McCurdy says with two decades of wisdom in his pocket.
“I think our customers are changing. I don’t think we can stay still. We are always looking at what the customer is looking for. We look at what is going on. Belleville is growing. There will likely be more people over the next 20 years living closer to us, so we think we are in a pretty good position that way. We’re just going to keep continually improving, whether it is something the customer sees or not. The future of golf is positive, and I think we are positioned pretty well. I think the next twenty years are going to be even better.”
Later this summer the club will celebrate their success in a fitting way. Their event will include former staff and customers, with them as the focus. “They been a major part of our success and we want to thank them. We’re looking forward to our July party. It should be a lot of fun.”
Private Ownership Group
Course Yardage / Rating / Slope
(Men – Par 72)
Gold – 6652/72.3/142
Blue – 6148/69.5/122
White – 5630/68.1/123
(Ladies (Par 72)
Red – 4962/68.2/115
Average Hole Lengths (Gold Tees)
Par 3’s – 179
Par 4’s – 388
Par 5’s – 530
Trillium Wood Golf Club
1281, Highway 37