Left without a clear leader after losing out on a deal that would have given it a new owner and a needed financial boost, Lakeside Park Club is plotting its future with an unlikely set of bosses at the helm.
Three of the longtime country club’s members have teamed up to form an operating committee, effectively taking it upon themselves to assume its empty general manager’s seat and run the day-to-day operations.
The unorthodox setup comes as the club, formerly known as Jefferson Lakeside Country Club, is working to shore up its finances to pay for sorely needed upgrades and try to attract and keep new members.
“We’re operating the club with a three-headed operating committee,” said Mark Grossman, who is on the committee with fellow members Matt Cannon and Ed Riley. “We’ve been inserted to help the resurgence.”
The trio took over late last year in the wake of the club’s failed sale to North Carolina-based McConnell Golf. The deal would have allowed the member-owned club to pay off its debt and infuse $3 million into improvements.
LPC had an interim general manager on board to help shepherd it through the McConnell deal, but the position has been empty since McConnell called off negotiations last May.
When the deal fell apart, Grossman, who has been a member of the LPC for decades, said he and the others found themselves griping about the state of the club. Then they changed their tune and decided to get more proactive.
“We said ‘if we’re going to bitch about this place we might as well join a committee,’” Grossman said.
The committee members each bring plenty of business experience to the table.
Grossman owns insurance company Monument Sports Group and indoor athletics facility Sports Center of Richmond (SCOR). Cannon works for Capital One and was just voted in to take over as the club’s board president as of April 1. Riley is a longtime local attorney and has been board president in recent years.
Also helping the cause is member Mike Lech, a former head of logistics for big corporations like Dollar Tree and Supervalu.
In the months since they took over, Grossman said the group has brought a sorely needed level of management that’s pushing the club toward a more stable path.
“We have really turned the corner in terms of changing the culture for customer service, diversity and restoring accountability in everyone,” Grossman said. “We have formalized things there where there was never any formalization at all.”
Riley said having Grossman, Cannon and Lech helping run the show has brought a new set of eyes to what’s needed at the club.
“They’ve given a different perspective,” Riley said. “It gives a new energy that’s very helpful. It takes a lot of effort to make a club with as many moving parts as this type of business has run effectively and efficiently.”
On membership, the committee’s goal is to increase the number of new members and decrease the amount of member attrition.
LPC currently has around 370 members, but Grossman said its attrition rate has been too high in recent years.
“We’ve had 15 percent growth in new members but 16 percent attrition, so that’s not good,” Grossman said. “Our attrition has been above industry standard.”
The group’s stated goal is to grow by 85 members over three years and get attrition down to 10 percent within a year.
Monthly dues currently range from $159-$489. Initiation fees range from $1,000 to $3,000.
Grossman said the attrition is tied in part to that initiation fee, which is relatively low, combined with a decline in previous years in the quality of the facilities and service.
“There’s not enough skin the game for people to not leave. We just were not providing enough value for the cost,” he said. “The key is great customer service and great value. When you pay your dues you should get those amenities.”
One near-term improvement that they think will move the needle is to improve the quality of the food service at the club.
“I remember when my kids were little, you looked forward to going out there,” Grossman said. “Everybody 20 years ago wanted to come play golf tournaments there because it was the best club food in town.”
The most ambitious part of the group’s plan is to raise $1 million from members to begin to make bigger-ticket improvements to the club’s facilities, including many of the same upgrades that McConnell had in mind. And that process has already begun.
The money is being raised through a member capital campaign that had previously been underway but was put on hold while the McConnell deal was being negotiated.
Grossman said a small group of unnamed members have committed to matching up to $500,000 raised from the campaign, which already has $200,000 in pledges.
“It’s to address the most pressing needs, both what you see and what you don’t see,” Grossman said, adding that the list includes HVAC, plumbing and electrical work, plus fresh paint and flooring around the clubhouse and better pay for the employees.
Another goal is to make improvements to the golf course and renovate the pool and dining areas.
One member has committed to pay for a landscape design study of how to best utilize the backside of the club’s 127-acre property, from the tennis courts all the way along the lake across from neighboring Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
LPC’s golf course opened around 1915 on land that had been owned by Richmond businessman Lewis Ginter. The club was initially known as Lakeside Country Club and opened as a Jewish country club at a time when Jews weren’t welcome at other clubs in town. It became known as Jefferson Lakeside through a combination with The Jefferson Club, which was originally downtown and also catered to Richmond’s Jewish community.
The club changed its name from Jefferson Lakeside Country Club to Lakeside Park Club in 2020, in a bid to appeal to a wider audience. It’s located at 1700 Lakeside Ave.
While the McConnell deal was seen by some as a way to carry the club into the future, Grossman said his group sees opportunity in the fact that the sale didn’t come to fruition.
“It’s like a sports analogy: sometimes the best trades are the ones that aren’t made,” he said. “I think the membership and the place is strong enough to come back on its own.”
While the operating committee is enjoying seeing things move in the right direction, Grossman said the ultimate plan is to get the club in a state where it can attract a quality general manager to run the day-to-day for the long run.
“Our goal is to not have the operating committee being the quasi-general manager for very long. It’s not sustainable to have retired guys and club members doing this stuff and it’s not what the members deserve,” Grossman said. “Our goal is to bring in the quality GM that Lakeside deserves. We want to get create the environment where we’ll have a GM that can grow old there.”
Grossman admits the club’s financial state is tight, but he said it’s stabilizing and improving.
“All in all, I am really optimistic on the future out there,” he said. “Lakeside is solid. It’s not going anywhere.”