Rehoboth Beach Country Club’s $10.5 million renovation
By Katie Tabeling
Changing the view
REHOBOTH BEACH — When General Manager Michael MacDonald looks out the bay windows at the Rehoboth Beach Country Club, he sees an ocean of possibilities for the club’s future.
After building his career in Florida golf and social clubs, MacDonald is no stranger to stunning water views, but the one found at the Rehoboth Beach Country Club is second to none.
“Even in Miami, you had this great view of the water and you could see the city skyline. But you didn’t have much in terms of a big view like this,” he said. “At nighttime, you can see the houses across the bay light up and that gives it a ethereal, spectacular feel. When people ask what’s our brand, I say ‘this view is it.’”
To capitalize on that brand, MacDonald is overseeing a $10.5 million renovation of the 95-year-old country club. In Feb. 2019, the membership approved a plan to overhaul the clubhouse and expand the pool area and golf course amenities, financed and paid by the membership. The end goal is to inspire current members and to draw new ones.
The remodel ranges from minor improvements, like refreshing the interior design in dining rooms and lounges, to major, like building a new bay-view bar and dining room, complete with a horseshoe-shaped bar and panoramic views of the water.
Other changes include expanding the second-floor terrace and taking down drapes in bayfront dining rooms and the ballroom to make the water the prime feature of the club.
“That view is what makes us a premium club, so the goal is that every seat in the bay-view bar has that view,” MacDonald said.
“Keeping the bay as the key focus, C2 Limited Design will be refreshing most of the interior to beach tones in several rooms. Blackney Hayes Architects, Broadpoint Construction, and GGA Construction are heading up the refurbishing of the entire club. Other notable redesigns are in the ladies’ and men’s locker room, kitchen and adding a brick oven in the casual dining room”
Outside, the 18-hole championship golf course will double its driving bays. The pool will be expanded to 25 yards, hopefully opening the door for swim meets, and will have an expanded deck and a new snack shack. These adjustments build off the wellness aspect of the club with a fitness center on the second floor of the golf shop.
Expectations are to re-open the club’s kitchen and two dining areas by March, with the entire club and pool to follow by Memorial Day weekend.
The Rehoboth Beach Country Club has put off renovations for 17 years, but MacDonald said that’s not so unusual. He’s seen many clubs put off improvements in efforts to save money, but that leaves the club looking tired and uninspired — and losing interest.
“Like I say to every one of my members in every one of my clubs: In order to make money you need to spend money,” he said. “This has been a recipe for success in all of my clubs. It pays for itself many times over with people wanting to come here instead of restaurants by the beach.”
Jeff Morgan, CEO of Club Managers Association of America, said clubs nationwide are starting to see renovations as a way to reinvent themselves.
“The trend started in 2012 after the recession, as many places are trying to create the flexibility for events from a social standpoint,” he said. “Today, clubs are much more about lifestyle drivers.”
Country clubs were first modeled as a male haven to play golf with friends, but after the 1940s it’s evolved to cater to the entire family with social activities. To meet that, clubs moved from the formal dining areas to casual events like food truck nights and wine tastings.
Health and wellness amenities continue to draw members, and Morgan’s opinion is that golf could still be a major one for clubs in beach communities.
“Maybe some people don’t have the four to five hours to play a round of golf, but they could have an hour or two to practice on the driving range,” he said. “We see a resort in a hometown, and members who spend a lot of time down at the beach could see a membership that offers fitness amenities as something that makes sense.”
The Rehoboth Beach Country Club has about 800 members, and 40% of the members keep a beach residence for six months out of the year. About 480 members are coming from all over the Mid-Atlantic region. Some members let months pass between visits to the club.
The average member is 61 years old, but that varies greatly from retirees, weekend warriors looking for a quick trip to play golf and relax, and families to enjoy an all-in-one facility.
“When this is all done, they’re going to be so impressed they’ll want to entertain their friends, and their friends join,” MacDonald said. “I’ve seen it happen with all my clubs. You take services up to a premium level, and people want to be there.”
MacDonald is no stranger to projects like this, as he’s overseen around seven renovations at the clubs he’s managed in the past 20 years. His resume includes guiding a $15 million renovation at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, and in Florida at Indian Creek Country Club in Miami; Royal Poinciana Golf Club in Naples; and the exclusive Everglades Club in Palm Beach.
He also supervised minor improvements to the Trump National Golf Course in D.C. during his tenure from 2015 to 2017.
MacDonald was brought to the Delaware beaches when his wife, Mary Ann Kelly MacDonald of legendary Kelly’s Logan House became a Realtor with Long & Foster. When the club’s management changed, some members reached out to see if he would be interested.
His vision for the club’s future, supported by the board of directors and club President Lynn Kokjohn, is to draw more events to the brand-new facility. In the last year, MacDonald successfully brought in music tribute shows like the Beatles and Motown, but he wants to see more outside organizations take advantage of its stunning view. Weddings could take advantage of the gorgeous vista and a refreshed catering menu for receptions.
MacDonald also sees opportunities to expand out to the business community, with small luncheons to large-scale galas, charity events and sit down events for the local chamber of commerce.
But it’s one step at a time, with the first step finishing the renovation so that members can start a new summer at a premium club.
“Our membership deserves this, they’re fabulous and great supporters,” he said. “They just want to see great things happening here, and I definitely know that great things are going to be happening here.”
Contact Katie Tabeling at [email protected]