September 24, 2020
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Aiming for the Green

View the full feature in the October/November issue of Evansville Business.

Back in 2000, when Evansville Living spoke with Victoria National Golf Club owner Terry Friedman, he was very clear about his vision for the world-class facility. He wasn’t in it to make a profit.

“If you’re in this for anything other than love, you wouldn’t do this,” Friedman said at the time. “If you’re in it to make money, or break even, you wouldn’t do this.”

But Friedman died unexpectedly in 2004, and his family soon found that Victoria National was becoming too much of a financial burden. So they did two things: sold the club to Victoria Partners LLC and looked to develop the rest of the land they owned near the course.

While Victoria National is still very much what Friedman envisioned, it also is more. The club has made changes to bring in more revenue. And if all goes as planned, a new development — built with sustainability as its goal — will soon spring up nearby.

While the two entities are mostly separate, they both revolve around the idea Friedman had nearly three decades ago: that Southern Indiana deserves something special. 

Staying on Course

Victoria National looks toward a sustainable future

When Victoria Partners LLC bought Victoria National Golf Club in 2010, the goal was to make sure the Newburgh, Indiana, club would have a financial roadmap for the future. According to General Manager Steve Munch, that’s exactly what is happening.

The course, which opened in 1998, was the dream of industrialist Terry Friedman. Designed by Tom Fazio, it navigates its way through 418 acres of the former Victoria strip mine. The result is nothing short of breathtaking, especially for golf enthusiasts. Golf Digest rated Victoria National as the 47th best golf course in the U.S. in 2013.

When Friedman died in 2004, his family took the reigns at Victoria National. But they had trouble making the club profitable, and sold the course and adjacent land to a group of private investors.

“It kind of started a reset for the club,” says Munch. “The vision of the club is to stabilize club operations, and in order to do that we’ve focused on a couple of things. We’ve enhanced the overall programming, rather than just being about golf. And the other piece that was important was the growth of our cottage program.”

Prior to 2010, Victoria National had two cottages, each with four bedrooms. Now, there are 24 bedrooms with 32 beds on the property. That allows the national members — those from outside the Tri-State — to have a place to stay as well as the opportunity to host small group business. Local cottage members have utilized the cottages for recruiting, board meetings, client outings, and entertainment.

Victoria hasn’t had a problem attracting national and local club members. Right now, it has about 260 golf members, and is nearly at local capacity. The new programming — themed events and expanded dining options — help bring in those who want only a social membership. The club now has about 100 social members, up from only 40 three years ago and also nearing capacity.

Above, the stone and metal entry into Victoria National has been in place since the club opened in 1998.

“That has allowed us to do more events because we have more of a population who wants to do club-related events,” says Munch. “Victoria has had net membership growth each year over the last three years, for both golf and social members.”

 When Friedman set out to build Victoria National, he wanted to attract big time tournaments. For the last three years, the club has hosted the United Leasing Championship on the Web.com Tour. The event is organized by the Evansville Sports Corp. In 2015 and 2016, it also will host the men’s Big 10 Conference Championship.

“Tournament golf has been important to us, as we’ve hosted the United Leasing Championship for the last three years,” says Munch. “The Evansville Sports Corp. is the Host Organization and United Companies the Title Sponsor. Clearly, having Victoria National located within the community provides the venue necessary to host events of this magnitude.”

Above, sponsor tents surrounded the 18th green during this year’s Web.com Tour event. Below, television cameras were set up on the course, both for local stations and the Golf Channel, during the United Leasing Championship.

The Big 10 Championship will be played April 24-26, 2015. That will bring in 14 five-man teams, one for each conference school. It also will be televised by the Big 10 Network, which will reach nearly every market where Victoria National has national members.

The United Leasing Championship will move to April 27 to May 3, 2015. It had previously been held in June. That will set up 10 consecutive days of tournament golf. Munch hopes the earlier dates will resonate with the golf community and create additional spectator interest as spring golf begins.

Hosting the large events has helped Victoria National reinvest in the club. More than $6 million has been spent since Victoria Partners took over. Some of that has gone for new course equipment, while much of it has gone to clubhouse improvements and on-site lodging expansion. The club will purchase a new fleet of golf carts in 2015, as well as take on other initiatives.

“There is a continued reinvestment, to ensure that we’re keeping a great golf course and a great club relevant,” says Munch. “That’s not always the case right now. In this economy, there are a lot of clubs not reinvesting in their assets. But we’ve continued to reinvest, and we’re looking to do more of that.”

Victoria National also is indirectly and directly involved in generating significant revenue for charities. The United Leasing Championship, through the Evansville Sports Corp. and the Old National “Golf Gives Back” program, has generated over $350,000 to local charities since the inception of the event in 2012. Victoria National also allows each of its golf members to donate one foursome of golf at no charge each year to the charity of their choice. The club provides annually 120 certificates or more, which collectively generate a minimum of $125,000 for local and national charities.

Munch says Victoria National plays a large role in the local economy, with 400 hotel rooms reserved just for the Big 10 Championship.

“The Big 10 Championship will create an economic impact for the local community,” he says. “Aside from the teams, friends and relatives will travel to Newburgh to watch their favorite player. These guests will also stay in hotels and frequent local restaurants, etc. Victoria National is proud to be an anchor in the community which helps drive business within our community.”

Plans for the future include making a bid with the USGA for the 2020 U.S. Senior Open, as well as further clubhouse expansion with a covered deck for exterior dining.

“The capital changes and the programming changes that have been made at this club has created a real energy here that is really good,” says Munch. “It is very positive for the club, for the membership, and for the community.”

For more information about Victoria National Golf Club, visit victorianational.com.

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