Few golf courses in the area can match Springdale’s historic track record. Parts of the Battle of Princeton were fought at the course’s original first hole. The course, which was founded in 1895 and which opened with nine holes in 1902, was built completely by hand.
The full 18-hole layout that exists today was designed by architect William Flynn, who also designed Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, one of the country’s most difficult courses and the site of many U.S. Open championships. From the back tees, Springdale measures a relatively innocuous 6,380 yards and plays to a par 71. It is a buccolic course, but it’s not easy to play. The difficulty of the course remains in the subtle breaks in its mature putting greens.
One signature hole is that original first hole, a par 4 of 364 yards, where part of the Battle of Princeton was fought. From the tee golfers have a view of Princeton University’s Cleveland Tower.
The big news at Springdale this summer is the new clubhouse. It’s smartly designed and energy-efficient, and offers great views of the golf course and surrounding campus buildings, including the Cleveland Tower. While some private golf clubs in the state, including Eagle Oaks in Farmingdale and Beacon Hill in Atlantic Highlands, have spent as much as $12 or $15 million to build their new clubhouses, Springdale’s new clubhouse cost just over $8 million.
Members and guests will be well-served in years to come in the expanded facility, at the other end of the course from its former location on College Road West. The new clubhouse’s address is 1895 Clubhouse Drive, so named for the year this historic, walker-friendly golf course was built.
The new clubhouse is larger than the one it replaces, but it uses less energy. Its heating and cooling systems are powered by environmentally-friendly geothermal power. The old clubhouse was barely 9,000 square feet, and lacked a full ladies’ locker room. Springdale’s new facility boasts 17,000 square feet, with locker rooms on one side for the Princeton University men’s and women’s golf teams.
“The effort to build the new facility was really spearheaded by Charlie Beach, our former president,” says Steve Wills, the current president of Springdale Golf Club. Wills is CFO of Palatin Technologies in Cranbury, and has his own accounting firm, Wills, Owens and Baker, at 15 Roszel Road.
“We project to save 30 to 50 percent annually on energy costs,” Wills says. The clubhouse uses a geothermal pump, which cost $300,000 to $400,000 more than a conventional energy plant. “As an accounting guy, it was clear to me that it was a lot more expensive to use a geothermal pump, but we were told that after seven years we’d get our money back,” he says.
Wills was raised in Levittown, Pennsylvania, where his father was an electrician and his mother worked as a cashier. He graduated from West Chester University and earned a master’s degree in taxation from Temple University. Wills married in 1989 and moved to Yardley, Pennsylvania.
Wills joined Springdale when he started his accounting practice in Carnegie Center. “It was good for my practice,” he says. “I knew a lot of people in the Mercer County area. I knew members at Trenton Country Club, and Cherry Valley Country Club, but the people I had the best relationships with were all Springdale members.
“If it wasn’t for the membership here, I would have gone over to Trenton Country Club or Bedens Brook or Cherry Valley, but I was also more a fan of this course than the other layouts,” he says. “Those other courses are fine, but the golf course here just never seems to get old.”
Wills joined in 1998, became treasurer in 2004, and became the club’s president in January of this year, taking the reins from Beach, a banking consultant.
“Springdale affords me the ability to take existing and prospective clients out,” says Wills. “Then I have a group of about four to six members here who I play with on a regular basis.”
Not unlike an old house, the former clubhouse on College Road West just wasn’t as functional as members wanted it to be. It had a leaky roof and a wet basement and a cramped parking lot. “People love to say the old clubhouse had character and everything,” Wills says, “but we were spending a significant amount on maintenance every year and many things regarding code compliance had been grandfathered in over the years. We also had an offer of assistance from the university, and if we waited five or ten years, we didn’t know if that offer would still stand.”
Springdale’s greatly expanded kitchen makes the clubhouse an attractive venue for banquets, weddings, and business meetings, though all of those events must be sponsored or referred by a member of the club.
Naturally, many members had their own agendas and their own set of ideas about what the new clubhouse should look and feel like. “We definitely had a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” Wills says. There were a dozen people on the clubhouse committee. But ultimately, it was Beach who had the time to put into the project and who made “a very prepared formal presentation to the membership,” and got the planning and construction effort underway.
The clubhouse was designed by Chapman-Coyle-Chapman, an Atlanta-based architectural firm, which also designed a clubhouse for Southern Hills Country Club in Oklahoma, the site of last year’s U.S. Open. Princeton Construction Group, which came highly recommended by several members, was the builder, led by owner Andy Ward and construction manager Josh Bousum.
Also helpful in the effort, Wills adds, were club manager Donna DeLorenzo, member Debbie Tams, who was in charge of interior design, project manager Bill Wakefield, liaison with the township, and member Rick Henkel, who handled the landscape design.
“We made sure we had some expertise, somebody with interior design experience, somebody with restaurant expertise, and on top of all of that, we had third-party contractors who all had clubhouse building experience,” Wills says. “We followed their design and didn’t tweak it much.”
The request for proposal process began in 2004, but even before that, in 2003, an outside firm surveyed the membership about the need for a new clubhouse, how much they would be willing to pay for it, and what kinds of features it should include. More than 80 percent of the members responded.
Unlike other area private golf clubs, Springdale is a thoroughly golf-centric place — there is no swimming pool and no tennis courts. So the clubhouse is the center of the club’s social life.
Cost was a factor that Springdale’s members took seriously. Initially the clubhouse was expected to cost about $12 million, Wills says. “We finally got it down to $8 million.”
Wills, Beach, and others on the governing board took out a $6.5 million mortgage and the financing for the new clubhouse was put into place. It came in less than $100,000 over budget. Construction began in the winter of 2005 and the clubhouse opened just about one year ago.
In terms of design objectives for the clubhouse, Wills says, “we wanted to make sure the members were taken care of. We wanted to be able to host banquets and outside parties, which have to be sponsored by a member. We try to schedule banquets after hours.” The course is closed to members on Mondays, but open to those who wish to host a golf outing there. Most members will be assessed about $1,200 extra for the new clubhouse over the next 30 years.
In addition to the clubhouse, the golf course is getting a new irrigation system. Total Turf of suburban Philadelphia is installing the new sprinkling system. The completely computerized sprinklers came online in June, and are under the supervision of longtime greens superintendent Charlie Dey.
Many members at Springdale like to play the course the way it was designed, in an era before motorized golf cars, so they walk and carry their clubs or take a pullcart. Springdale sits on just 120 acres, and is partly in Princeton Borough and partly in Princeton Township. Most golf courses today are developed on a minimum of 250 to 300 acres, more than twice the size of Springdale, Wills points out, “yet, it doesn’t look tight or cramped as you walk it here.”
Springdale’s membership waiting list is shorter than it was in past years. With various individual and family golf memberships priced between $3,000 and $4,000, the club is not an ultra-elite place. Members here include retired Princeton faculty and staff, plumbers and carpenters, as well as white collar professionals like Beach and Wills.
Princeton University, with its deep pockets, is happy to convert the former clubhouse into offices, and that is fine with Wills. “The university hasn’t made its plans for it known to me, but frankly, they can afford to spend a lot more money than we could refurbishing it.” Meanwhile, he and all of the other members of the Springdale club are enjoying their new, modern clubhouse overlooking a very old course.
Springdale Golf Club, 1895 Clubhouse Drive, Princeton 08540. Donna DiLorenzo, club manager. 609-921-8790; fax, 609-921-6190.