A decade after Davis Love III renovated the layout at Forest Oaks in an attempt to keep the longtime PGA Tour stop in southeast Greensboro, the private club is unveiling another bold move in April – an overdue overhaul of the clubhouse.
The Wyndham Championship is no longer at Forest Oaks, having moved across town to Sedgefield Country Club, but that’s not preventing a new group, headed by former Wake Forest and NFL star wide receiver Ricky Proehl, from upgrading the clubhouse to try to attract more tournaments and give the membership amenities to match the top-notch golf-course experience.
Proehl, who owns a successful 82,000 square foot indoor fitness venture in Greensboro called Proehlific Park, has signed a four-year lease at Forest Oaks with a two-year option, and will use Raleigh-based ES2 Services to manage the country club, including the tennis and pool operations. After 2019, Proehl would have the first right of refusal to purchase Forest Oaks.
Proehl, who now coaches for the Carolina Panthers, will bring his fitness and membership concepts to Forest Oaks by turning the current banquet room into a state-of-the-art fitness center measuring up to 7,000 square feet. An overhaul of the bar and grill are also in the plans. Construction begins the first week of April and is expected to take between 90-120 days.
Matt Birely, director of ES2 Services, a luxury sports and leisure, staffing and management consulting group, surveyed the Forest Oaks membership and more than 90 percent were in favor of the latest developments, especially since current members will be grandfathered at their current monthly dues despite the pending multi-million dollar improvements to the facility.
“In 14 years in the business I’ve been involved in openings and renovations and big corporate stuff to single operators all over the country and I can tell you this is one of the rarest levels of enthusiasms I have ever seen,” Birely said. “I’m not exactly sure how the word on this spread so fast but it has been just enormous positive feedback.
“The golf course is in great shape so our goal is to absolutely attract some tournaments back, but we need a clubhouse to match that experience. Our members are not only going to have an excellent golf course but they are going to have a clubhouse, a fitness center, and a bar and grill that is consistent with that. The level of service we want to bring is one that the PGA would look at Forest Oaks in a new light.”
Geoff Dail has been at Forest Oaks for the last 10 years, five as golf course superintendent and the last five as the club’s general manager.
“I grew up two blocks down the road, I went to junior high and high school here, and I went to NC State and I worked here during PGA events for 15-18 years and I’ve never, ever seen the extreme excitement that I’ve seen from this concept,” Dail said. “The people of this community and the present membership are on their toes and more excited about this reality than I’ve ever seen them, even throughout the pride they had when the PGA Tour event was here.
“This golf course – and I have the PGA reports to prove it – was always very, very well respected by the PGA and their players and officials,” he added. “I love the concept that Ricky and ES2 is going to bring here to equate that feel in the clubhouse and the facility.”
Forest Oaks has 400 members, including former lease holder Steve Sharpe, who is beating the drum for the much-needed improvements.
“I can tell you that Steve Sharpe 100 percent agrees with our plan and philosophy,” Birely said. “He just didn’t’ have the contacts or the business experiences to come in and deliver what the clubhouse needed. That’s the main reason he didn’t renew the lease.”
Birely says that Proehl’s “members first” belief mirrors those of ES2.
“Ricky has a quote he loves to use on his philosophy on his sports and leisure brand,” Birely said. “He says, ‘The members are the most valuable player on our team.’ A lot of organizations in this type of scenario go with the philosophy of the most valuable player on the team is the staff, or who can generate the most revenue or the most members. But Ricky is very member-focused as is our group. Our first priority at Forest Oaks is to take care of and listen to the current member base while we’re growing excitement and adding to the facility.”
While not official quite yet, the club may even be in for a name change: Club Proehlific at Forest Oaks.
As to whether the PGA Tour would take another look at Forest Oaks as a possible venue, that’s a debate that will begin soon.
“The golf course is hands-down one of the best in the area,” Dail said. “We’ve got 30 years of PGA Tour experience and we’re extremely proud of that. As far as the transition of the management since 2007, that can be summed up as this: we’ve had some fantastic management experience here, including Steve Sharpe and Troon Golf, and they have done a great deal of positive things with the membership and the club, but it’s a new era, and the new era is fitness and modernization. This is the most exciting time here since the 2007 Wyndham Championship.”
“Our mission is that any member, any guest, anyone from the PGA who comes out to our facility would describe Forest Oaks as nothing less than excellent,” added Birely.