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March 2024

Colleton River Club


By Scott Kauffman

When the Country Club of Spartanburg opened in 1908 with a 9-hole course, the historic South Carolina layout was widely attributed to the design expertise of famed architect Donald Ross. After expanding to 18 holes in the early 1950s, the historic private club became a fixture on the LPGA circuit and known for its high-caliber golf with the likes of three-time major championship winner and PGA Tour star Cary Middlecoff as a member.

Forty years later in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, Colleton River Plantation helped set the standard for premier modern-day golf clubs when it opened the acclaimed Jack Nicklaus Signature course in 1993 and a new Pete Dye-designed layout six years later – earning the distinction of being the first private residential golf community with two courses ranked among “America’s Top 100 Courses in the U.S.” by GOLF Magazine. In many respects, though the two prestigious Palmetto State properties were nearly a century apart in age, the private clubs shared a parallel path of golf pedigree.

In the new millennium, the two golf-rich South Carolina clubs still carry that same reputation, but like so many other clubs these days, Country Club of Spartanburg and newly named Colleton River Club are evolving to say the least.

Perhaps the “General Manager's Corner” video series being produced by leading clubhouse architects Kuo Diedrich Chi says it best. Indeed, in KDC’s ongoing series featuring insights from top private club leaders, among the main topics discussed by Colleton River and Spartanburg’s management in the latest video segments were, as the title of the series’ part three states, “More Than Golf.”

“So, we had a problem at Colleton because we were golf centric and we just didn’t have other options,” Colleton River Club General Manager/Chief Operating Officer Tim Bakels said in his interview segment titled, Creating a Lifestyle Club. “Like a large enough health and wellness facility, pickleball, tennis. … we were a little too formal.”

Bakels went on to say with a rhetorical big smile, “So how did we solve it? We hired (KDC architect/principal co-founder) Howard (Kuo).”

Actually, Kuo’s firm was involved in designing the Platinum Club’s initial round of $16.5 million worth of new “lifestyle amenities,” including Colleton River’s new 11,000-square-foot plus Fitness Complex and Wellness Center; new poolside cafe, numerous bocce and pickleball courts and new six-court tennis center. With this initial phase completed last year and under his belt, Bakels is now ready to unveil the club’s latest round of KDC-designed work at the newly renovated Dye Clubhouse. Featuring expanded dining and food-and-beverage venues that take in Colleton River’s picturesque Lowcountry setting, Bakels says, “We’re going to be turning (the Dye Clubhouse) into one of the top restaurants in the Lowcountry,” which says a lot considering Colleton River is just a couple miles from the bridge that leads to high-profile Hilton Head Island.

“Our club’s all about natural beauty and one of the things (KDC’s done) is you’ve made the new project feel like the Lowcountry; we didn’t lose the culture, the look and feel of Colleton,” Bakels says. “It’s typical Lowcountry; a lot of seafood; Lowcountry boil; it’s living off the land. So with Howard’s help we’re going to be one of the premier clubs with many many amenities for a lot of people to do”
Bakels, who previously ran such esteemed golf clubs as Hamilton Farm in Gladstone, N.J., and Desert Highlands in Scottsdale, likens Colleton River today to cruising.  “I think it’s more about lifestyle (today); so rather than just be a golf club you have to be a lifestyle club. And because of that you need other things for people to do.

“Especially as a residential community. We don’t want them to go off. … It’s like a cruise ship; we want them to stay on so you have to offer them as many amenities as you can.”

At the Country Club of Spartanburg, Chief Operating Officer Haissam Baityeh, couldn’t agree more with his fellow peer after successfully reimagining the club’s pool complex that dates back to 1934 and now being in the midst of creating more “lifestyle” amenities like a new clubhouse signature “casual restaurant grill and bar.” In Baityeh’s “GM Corner” segment titled, “New Amenities to Drive Membership,” Spartanburg’s new multi-million family-oriented pool complex and hospitality venues on the near horizon, “Absolutely play a big role because that is where growing the membership usually go,” Baityeh says.

“To create that feel of comfort, that feel of updated comfort every few years with the generations,” he adds, “I think that has really been a good help for us. And every time we change in the dining room it gives that member the ability or desire to invite their guests and show off their club. So that has definitely had a big impact.

“Especially with the recent renovation where we’ve been able to add a specific area for a bar for the members to gather. Now you go to the club on Friday night and that room where the bar is, although it’s also the dining room, you see members standing there and it’s as loud as can be from the hours of 6 to 7:30 before they sit down for dinner and calm down. So, we’re really acting like a bar and that’s a membership driver right there.”

To be sure, neither Bakels or Baityeh are losing sight of their golf pedigree. In fact, next up on Baityeh’s long-term strategic plan being discussed with KDC principal architect Mark Diedrich is redeveloping the existing driving range.

“Something that makes the driving range more of a social event; more of an evening event as well that’s well lighted and has a Trackman,” Baityeh adds. “That would also include the teaching facility that we now do not have. So not exactly Topgolf but something similar where it’s casual and it’s fun golf. You just go there and have a drink, hit some balls, and have fun with each other.”

Something the Country Club of Spartanburg has already been doing successfully for more than a century.


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