Published May 31. 2012 7:00PM Updated May 31. 2012 9:13PM
The Great Neck Country Club phenomenon continues to amaze even the most skeptical observers of the golf scene in Eastern Connecticut.
When the Mortimer family purchased the old New London Country Club at the beginning of this year, the conventional wisdom was that the new entity would struggle for a short time, until Dave Mortimer could put in place the needed changes to begin to entice new membership to the old club, which had fallen to a membership number that was south of 175.
There was a great deal of hoopla surrounding the purchase and an equal amount of healthy skepticism after Mortimer announced his plans for significant renovations and improvements to the existing facilities, all at a highly competitive market price. Old members were grateful that the golf course had been saved and prospective new members were treated to projections of a sparkling new facility that would draw them into the world of private golf.
Even those who were deeply indebted to Mortimer for the club's salvation were inclined to temper enthusiasm lest he create unrealistic expectations and ultimately, disappointment. Two-hundred-fifty members would be a very good first year, they said, and talk of 300 members was pie-in-the-sky and not to be taken too seriously.
People like Dave Mortimer don't exist through tempered expectations. They don't achieve the phenomenal level of business success he has enjoyed by being the prisoners of conventional wisdom, by listening to the gaggle of naysayers who are more than happy to point out the endless possibilities of failure. They are successes because they see things that we don't. They assimilate and crystallize information much better and faster than we do and in the end, they are more decisive and courageous than we are.
Dave Mortimer saw the possibilities of Great Neck CC in a way that most of us couldn't imagine because most of us are trapped by the tried and true and don't really understand the art of the possible. It's a gift. And Mortimer has it in spades.
At a meeting Wednesday night of a improvised advisory board, Mortimer announced that Great Neck CC now has 350 members, has stopped taking new members, and a waiting list has been formed. That's right: 350 members.
Beyond that, he gave members an inside look into the development and progress of his vision, as he outlined the changes that will be happening in the immediate future. Mortimer has put his money where his ideas are by nearly rebuilding the entire physical plant that was NLCC. Everywhere you look you see newness. New pro shop, new restaurant, new banquet facilities, new equipment for the golf course, new parking facilities, and more to come. It is a literal renaissance of an old and venerable facility and membership is both appreciative and excited. They should be. It is a dream come true for many and it only figures to get better.
Mortimer is quick to credit the Town of Waterford for cooperating in this project and emphasized the valuable role that P&Z Chair Ed McGuire has played in expediting this venture.
Mortimer listened to many people and the ones that made sense to him suggested a price point for basic membership that would keep old members and draw new ones that the old club had been unable to reach. And then he decided what that price point would be and hit the nail on the head with his basic single membership fee of $2,700. Instinct? I don't think so. I think it's the particular gift of this sage businessman to understand intuitively how this all adds up.
I asked Dave if he thought this was a model for other clubs or is it an anomaly, put into motion by a unique set of circumstances and a unique family. Dave loves to profess that he's not the smartest guy around, but then he listens and thinks and finally says something that makes you say, "hmmm, that was pretty smart." He doesn't profess to know whether this is a transferrable model but is quick to point out that it's a model that will work for Great Neck CC.
Mortimer wants Great Neck CC to be a resource for his community and he wants his venture to be a model of public responsibility. He has special plans to make the club accessible, particularly to young folks seeking to become involved in the game.
When Ann and Dave Mortimer say things like this there is not a scintilla of insincerity to be found. They mean it. There is no pretense in them. They have made a huge commitment to this area because that's who they are.
Ann and Dave from Waterford. And 350 people have signed up to help make sure that Dave's Excellent Adventure continues on. It really is an "Only in America" tale.
Jim O'Neill is a member at Great Neck CC.