Executive golf course to reopen near Middletown
MIDDLETOWN – The former Vandegrift Golf Club, a nine-hole executive golf course off Bayview Road, will reopen under new management this summer.
Local entrepreneurs John and Dawn Witte hope to reopen the course and clubhouse bar and restaurant as Mulligans on June 1. The couple had originally hoped to open the business later this month, but the coronavirus pandemic nixed any potential to open a sit-down restaurant until at least May 15.
The Wittes were longtime regulars at the former Bogey’s Bar and Grill and had always dreamed about how they might change the business.
After a change in circumstances – John was laid off from his job as a hedge fund manager for a New York-based, family-run firm last spring and the former Bogey’s operator closed up the bar – the Wittes decided to act on their dream.
“It seemed like a good career change. After looking at the stock market, I have to say I’m relieved to not be caught up in that right now,” John said in an interview before the pandemic locked down businesses across Delaware.
John is a golf enthusiast who even built a practice hole at his home’s backyard. Dawn doesn’t play as much, but she’s quick to tell you that she birdied the ninth hole at the famous Blue Monster course at Trump National Doral Golf Club in Miami.
The Mulligans course is primarily pitch-and-putt, with the fifth hole being the longest at about 300 yards, Witte said. There will be two par-4 holes with the rest playing at par 3.
The golfing will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, unless tee times are deemed to be warranted. Green fees will be nominal for the opening season as the course’s grass is still in need of some work.
The Wittes had a University of Delaware professor test the soil, finding that it is conducive to regrowing greens. The best time to reseed greens, however, isn’t until August, when the maturing grass can avoid the hottest time of the year. The couple also plans to restore the course’s neglected sprinkler system this year, hopefully starting the 2021 season with a course of which to be proud.
“It will be a work in progress this year, but we’re not hiding it from anyone,” John said. “Even so, it’s an advantage for us that we’re only nine holes. You can go out and just hit the ball around for a little bit and then you’re not disconnected all day.”
Mulligans would join a list of six executive golf courses in Delaware, including ones in Wilmington, Newark, Dover, Ocean View, Lewes and Bethany Beach. It would be the only option for shorter play in the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend region. It closed about a decade ago.
Meanwhile, Dawn, who has experience managing restaurants, has taken to the renovations of the clubhouse, which features a pro shop for the course, a bar and a sit-down dining room.
Mulligans will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, with hours ranging from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays to Wednesdays and 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursdays to Saturdays. The Wittes plan to each cover eight-hour shifts managing the operation, but they intend to hire at least 25 full-time equivalent positions as well.
“We’re basically two businesses – a breakfast business and then a night business – so that’s why the [full-time equivalent] number gets so large,” John noted.
Alongside the increased employment opportunity, especially at a time when Delaware is experiencing historic highs in unemployment, the Wittes expect to invest upward of $250,000 in the operation by the time they open.
John said that he feels confident in the demand for such long service hours on the northeast side of Middletown, where few restaurants exist along U.S. Route 13.
The changes at the property are welcomed by the property’s owner, Vandegrift Manor Maintenance Corp., the homeowner association comprised of the roughly 58 property owners in the Fairways at Vandegrift community.
John said that he’s excited to make the course something that the residents of Vandegrift can be proud of again. Since they’ve begun renovations, the HOA has established committees for golf, activities, and landscaping to complement the couple’s work. Dawn added that she has been getting the input on the landscaping from the residents who abut the course.
“It’s great for them because they’ll feel like they have decision making in what’s happening to their property,” John said, noting homeowners have told them that the neglect at the course has lowered their home values by about $25,000.
Before the pandemic spurred stay-at-home orders, the Wittes said they had locals stopping by to find out about the renovations almost every day. Some mornings they would see a resident playing a few of the holes – a rarity before the course received much-needed attention.
The couple plans to host fundraising events, weekly live music, and other non-golf related events to give more residents something to do.
“We really just want to build a sense of community here,” John said.
By Jacob Owens