John McConnell readily admits he never set out to purchase a stable of golf courses across the states of North Carolina and South Carolina. But as properties presented themselves throughout the past decade the business itch inside the former high-tech executive took over.
So did his “pure golf” belief and affinity for “nothing but the best.” Nowhere is that more evident than in the Triad area, where McConnell’s 54 holes of golf are unrivaled in the private club sector with layouts designed by legendary architects Donald Ross, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio.
“The architects are the key. You have 54 holes by three of the masters,” said Chad Flowers, McConnell Golf’s director of membership for the Triad. “We like to say that our Triad members play the masters every day. What other membership in the Triad can you join and within an hour drive have 54 holes of golf from Ross, Dye and Fazio, with two of them being top 20 golf courses in the state?”
Each of the layouts is celebrated in their own way. The Sedgefield Country Club (Ross Course) hosts the PGA Tour Wyndham Championship each summer as well as the ACC Women’s Golf Championship, while the Sedgefield Country Club (Dye Course), formerly known as The Cardinal, hosts the Cardinal Amateur – one of the South’s renowned amateur events staged in Greensboro for 38 years that McConnell Golf will now run. Meanwhile, Old North State Club has been ranked among the top five courses in North Carolina since it was designed by Fazio more than two decades ago along the banks of Badin Lake in the Uwharrie National Forest, hosting the ACC Men’s Golf Championship on an annual basis.
“From a pure golf standpoint you’ve got three courses that are totally different,” McConnell said. “Sedgefield has that old Ross classic look with the shots straight ahead of you; on the Pete Dye course you better hit the ball perfectly on each hole or you’ve got challenges, and Old North State is just a walk in the park, you feel like you’re out in nature, every hole is beautiful and inviting, and then you finish on Badin Lake and you say, ‘Wow, what a place.’ And all the rest of the holes there are pretty darn good, too.”
Raleigh-based McConnell Golf purchased Cardinal Golf and Country Club in 2006 and Sedgefield Country Club in February 2011. In 2013, The Cardinal became a part of Sedgefield Country Club — making it the only private club in the country with both a Ross designed course along with a Dye creation.
Meanwhile, Old North State Club, which has mostly been a second-home market gated community, was added to the portfolio in 2009 as the economy was heading into a deep recession. Last year, Flowers said Sedgefield added 60 new memberships and says the housing market’s rebound is starting to take hold at Old North State.
“There were several reasons memberships picked up in 2014,” Flowers said. “We had a new offering of a Dye-only membership and real estate started bouncing back. But more importantly is the member’s sense of pride seems to be returning. Our members are definitely referring their friends to come back in and join, and talking Sedgefield up more.”
And talking up the opportunity to tee it up at Old North State, about an hour south off of Highway 49.
“Locals that join Sedgefield definitely know of Old North State and know how great it is to go down there and play,” Flowers said. “When I’m talking to a prospect for Sedgefield who is from out of town and they don’t really know much about Old North State I tell them to go jump on the website and check the place out. It’s just an hour south of where you are joining and you’re getting the No. 4 golf course in the state. It’s just an incredible property to come down to.”
Old North State Club has a small lodge along the shores of Badin Lake that McConnell recently said he’s looking into expanding in order to attract business conferences … and more play at the Fazio gem.
“A concept we’re playing with now is making that lodge a mini conference center,” McConnell said. “One of the issues we have currently is the lodge is not large enough for a 20-30 person board retreat or sales group meeting, so we will be expanding that part of the property within the next couple of years. When I go to Old North State and enter the gates my blood pressure goes from about 140 to 110. That is one beautiful piece of property.”
“I can tell you one thing there are no distractions at Old North State,” added Flowers. “Even when I’m heading to work or to a meeting there I just exhale when I arrive on site. What a place.”