From a quick glance at his Friday afternoon attire – yellow, logoed polo shirt tailored with sleek performance thread, grey checkered shorts, stylishly wide, white belt, Adidas Adizero Tour shoes and Oakley sunglasses – it is immediately apparent Vince Lima lives and breathes the game of golf.
On this day, he has just wrapped up 18 competitive holes in his weekly group at Salem Glen Country Club in Clemmons, the Glen Day/Nicklaus Design golf course and country club Lima purchased last year.
Despite making three birdies, the athletically built 6-handicapper who arrived in the Triad via Chicago failed to hit his number and coughed up his share of the dough toward the day’s kitty.
All of which didn’t bother Salem Glen’s newest owner a bit. “We’ve got a lot going on here,” Lima said before heading off to guide a tour of the club’s numerous on-going renovations.
He’s not kidding: From golf course to the clubhouse to the locker room to the practice facility to the swimming pool – everything is fair game in Lima’s grand plan for the Salem Glen resurgence.
“We’re not letting the dust settle on anything just yet,” he said.
Lima retired when he turned 55 a few years back, following three decades overseeing various operations for – first UPS and later Grainger – around Chicago, where he and his family resided, as well as Louisville, Atlanta and several stints in Europe.
“My goal was to go play golf every day,” Lima said. “And I did that for a while. But one day, one of my buddies said, ‘Hey, you’ve still got some gas in the tank. You should think about buying a golf course.’”
Having been a private golf club member for more than 25 years and an admitted golf junkie, Lima thought the idea made a lot of sense. Working with a golf course brokerage firm, he eventually looked at more than two dozen golf courses from Chicago to Florida, Tennessee and throughout the Carolinas.
His search ended at Salem Glen.
Designed by former PGA Tour champion Glen Day and golf’s greatest champion in Nicklaus, Salem Glen opened to tremendous fanfare in the spring of 1997.
The golf course would later be selected to host, among other prestigious competitions, a Nike Tour event, the Women’s ACC Championship, a U.S. Amateur qualifier and numerous junior tournaments.
The centerpiece of the Salem Glen housing development picturesquely nestled between Dock Davis and Idols roads in south Clemmons is just a pitching wedge east of the Yadkin River, and the club’s 23,000-square-foot clubhouse opened three years later.
Yet the first time Lima walked unannounced into Salem Glen’s clubhouse 2 ½ years ago, “I thought I walked into a funeral home,” he says.
In 2003 Salem Glen had been sold to National Capital Golf, with Textron financing the transaction. After that, by all accounts, conditions around the club had plunged precipitously.
Maintenance of the course dried up and the course condition deteriorated.
Current head golf professional Daniel Byrd recalls during his first Member-Guest Tournament here when participants were forced to play on three temporary greens because the putting surfaces were in such poor condition.
Things got so bad that a group of members decided to stage a mass resignation in order to cut off the cash flow to National Capital Golf. Their subsequent exodus left Salem Glen with few members. The club entered bankruptcy and was managed by several management companies until purchased by Lima in August 2013.
Today, virtually every member who resigned has returned to the club.
Critical, they say, to the success of the course not only returning to, but also exceeding past conditioning was the hiring of golf course superintendent Matt Robinson and his assistant, Marty Pugh.
The duo’s knowledge and tireless work have been instrumental in exceeding members’ expectation of providing a top-shelf golf course.
“They have done an incredible job getting the course conditions back to where they need to be,” Lima said. “We don’t want to lose sight on what a golfer values.”
Recently the North Carolina Ladies Association visited Salem Glen for an outing. After the round, one of the association members flagged down Lima and told him: “We’ve played all over North Carolina,” she said. “This is by far the most well conditioned golf course we have played.”
But the Salem Glen renaissance goes much further than just golf course conditioning.
To remove the “funeral home” feel of the clubhouse, Lima redid the dining room and they are now beginning to renovate the lobby. They have restored the popular “Jack’s Grill,” while also planning renovations on the private, members-only dining area called “The Bears Den.”
Meanwhile, they have transformed the club’s swimming pool from what Lima described as a “high school pool” to a true “country club pool” offering food service, games for the children and generally improved aesthetics.
Lima said he also plans to add a fitness workout facility.
“None of the clubs where we’ve belonged in the past have really focused on a family experience or a complete country club experience,” Lima said. “Most clubs are all about golf. The wife can’t go out on the course until a certain time, kids are not allowed on the course. They have the amenities to attract a good family environment but they were not making it welcoming to other members of my family.
“Family time is very limited. The last thing any man wants to say is that ‘I’m going to go play golf for 5½ hours.’ We’re trying to create an environment where everyone is welcome. We’re trying to create an all-inclusive club. That’s why many of the renovations we are doing are not on the golf side.”
Lima and his wife, Christine, have four children – three boys and their youngest is a girl – all who have worked at the club in various capacities.
“When I say he’s a hands-on owner, I mean it,” said longtime Salem Glen member and resident Frank Johnson. “(Lima) and his family are all very involved.”
For Johnson, their home at Salem Glen is his and his wife Sally’s 13th at a wide variety of locales throughout the country. They call Salem Glen “far and away” the best place they have ever lived.
“You can go anywhere and have houses, but this is a great neighborhood. It’s a great membership at the club, fun people – it is just a wonderful place,” said Johnson, one of the many Salem Glen members who resigned then rejoined the club once it regained dedicated ownership. “Things had been going on here that just didn’t make good business sense. We are thrilled that Vince is here because he’s one person. He doesn’t have to answer to a board or anyone else. If he wants to do something, he does it.”
When he first arrived at Salem Glen, Lima held two focus groups at the club for some of its remaining members. He told them to ask whatever they wanted. “I am as clear as that glass right there,” Lima told them, before going over a laundry list of issues from green conditions, to menus, to conditions at the pool.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how open everyone was with us,” he said.
Lima formerly belonged to a Nicklaus-designed golf course near Chicago that he said “kicked you in the teeth a little.”
Salem Glen is considered more fun and beautiful than it is challenging. With 150 feet of elevation changes, 4 ½ miles of creeks and nine lakes, the course is more renowned for its two distinct nines. Five holes on the outward half are set in the Yadkin River basin, and feature generous fairways and a number of strategically placed water hazards.
The inward nine is typical Carolina mountain-style with dramatic elevation changes throughout its tree-lined fairways. The challenging 14th hole is a 550-yard par-5 that plays over the ravine to a long, shallow green cut into the hillside. No. 17, a 193-yard par-3 flanked by creeks in front and behind the large green, is another favorite.
Salem Glen’s three par-5s are medium length, with enough challenges to make attempts at reaching the green in two, a dicey proposition. On the 528-yard fourth, a stream crosses the fairway 100 yards from the green. On the 525-yard seventh, a large pond on the right runs 125 yards to greenside, and the front of the green is pinched with bunkers guarding both sides. A creek runs across the front edge of the banked green, Augusta National style, at the 535-yard 14th.
After spending time playing with members, Lima made the decision to “toughen up” his new golf course a bit, secure in the knowledge that Salem Glen’s five tee boxes will keep all levels of player happy.
He has already implemented plans to lengthen some of the holes at the same time his crew pinches the fairways.
Most noticeably, Lima said he soon will be turning the finishing hole from a par-4 to a par-5 – the course is currently a par-71 – as originally designed.
“I listen and then go ahead and act,” Lima said. “I fix the things that need to be fixed and focus on the things that need to be focused on.”
Today, Salem Glen boasts a membership of about 250 – 100 social and 150 full golf members – meaning the club remains reliant on public play. With all the new changes and its impeccable conditioning, Salem Glen is clearly one of the best bargains in town.
At the same time, the club is now offering numerous unique membership packages while also extending the age for junior memberships from 40 to 42 years old.
“We welcome daily fee play with open arms,” Lima said. “And it is not necessarily the number of members you have; it is the amount of support you receive from your members. You have to support it through more than just your monthly dues.”
For at least one longtime Salem Glen member, the fresh new attitude around the club has been a welcome change.
“I respect all the decisions (Lima) has made so far,” Johnson said. “I think long-term Salem Glen is going to be a much better club.”