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.
“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.”
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.
Planning for the Future
New development aims to create a sustainable community
If plans come to fruition, a new development near Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Indiana, will be a lot more than just another subdivision. Instead, it will have its own shops, parks, trails, amphitheater, and more.
The Resource Group, an investment firm based in Jacksonville, Florida, has been working on a development plan since they came to Warrick County four years ago. Resource Group President and CEO Mike McCann says the project is in the feasibility stage, with the firm trying to figure out both affordability and land availability.
“This is more than Victoria National, this is about Ohio Township and creating a commercial center for people to come and shop or have meals, a true lifestyle offering” says McCann. “Our vision includes a setting adjacent to a park that provides trails, benches, gazebos. There will be areas for a farmers market, concerts, car shows, and more. It will bring people together in venues that, right now, are just not available.”
By adding the roads and infrastructure to the area, says McCann, the project will open up more land for residential development. For now, that area is farmland and mostly inaccessible.
“Builders will be able to come in and build homes of all kinds, from starter homes to the upper end of the market, the estate lots with larger homes,” says McCann. “It will include new offerings for Ohio Township.”
The concept is very similar to those presented in the Sustainable Evansville Area Coalition’s recent Millennial Plan for 2040, which was featured in “Evansville in 2040” in the August/September issue of Evansville Business. The neighborhood would have a commercial center with residential areas further from the core.
“Yes, this is a similar concept: creating a live, work, play environment,” says McCann. “Many communities in the southeast are built around that model. That is lacking in the Midwest, but that conversion is happening. Much like Carmel, Indiana, 20 years ago, Evansville is ready for it.”
The Resource Group is involved mostly with development projects in the Southeast, so coming to Indiana was a geographical stretch. The intent of the Warrick County development is to introduce a true lifestyle living to the Midwest.
“The more we looked at it, we realized it was a very special property,” says McCann. “And we started to see that maybe there was an opportunity that was bigger than Victoria National. It was a chance to develop a lifestyle community.”
For the last 18 months, McCann and other members of The Resource Group have met with Warrick County officials, and Gov. Mike Pence visited the site Aug. 21. The plan is not final, but The Resource Group will seek financial contribution from Warrick County and the state of Indiana in the form of a public/private partnership.
“We have not started the public process yet, because we have not presented the county with a final plan and request,” says McCann. “We’ve had informal meetings where commissioners and council members were invited out, and we shared the vision with them. We got some great feedback, and everybody believes it to be a well thought out plan. But the devil will be in the details.”
The plan calls for about 5 miles of new roadways, connecting to Indiana 261, Indiana 61, Roslin Road, and Anderson Road. The entire development will encompass more then 2,000 acres. The Resource Group does not own all of the land that would come into development, but McCann says the infrastructure will create many buildable lots for years to come, which today is in short supply.
The Resource Group hopes to have a public presentation before the end of the year, and with the proper support move to final specifications and public bid by summer of 2015. Groundbreaking could come in late 2015 or early 2016, if the process goes smoothly.
“Our studies tell us that this would open up Warrick County for about 20 years of development,” says McCann.
Warrick County Board of Commissioners President Don Williams says the project still has many hurdles to clear, but looks promising.
“We’ve talked, and I know they’ve met with the Economic Development Advisory Council and the Redevelopment Commission, as well as members of the county council,” says Williams. “It is quite a vision, and it is kind of exciting, when you look at the things they could do and what the county could do.”
Randy Miller, president of the Warrick County Economic Development Advisory Council (EDAC), says the county won’t be able to offer any incentives until they see a final plan. At that point, several options could be discussed.
“We’ll get from them what kind of participation they would like to see from Warrick County, and once that number is determined, we’ll weigh that and see what available capital we would have,” says Miller. “Of course, that will have to go before the commissioners and the county council, and the council will make that determination.”
Miller says he’s pleased with the improvements made at Victoria National, and thinks the proposed development would complement that nicely. He says the development and The Resource Group have gotten entirely positive reaction from the EDAC board members.
“I have not talked to anyone who isn’t for this,” says Miller. “It is out-of-the-box thinking. The presentations I’ve been involved, I have not heard one negative comment. But they have not come up with the dollar amount they’ll request, and that will be critical.”
McCann says he’s appreciated the help The Resource Group has gotten from Warrick officials, calling it a “very cooperative and collaborative process.” Miller echoed those sentiments, saying he feels The Resource Group has been very transparent through the process so far.
The Resource Group already has developed lodging at Victoria National, adding cottages on the grounds. The plan, says McCann, is to eventually have 40 beds available. This year, about 4,000 guests will stay in those cottages.
Though the new development will not be directly linked with Victoria National, McCann expects the golf course to benefit. The new development will be an enticement, he says, to bring in golfers and business leaders from the region and the nation that may be considering Warrick County and the Tri-State for a branch expansion or relocation of their businesses.
For more information about The Resource Group, visit resource-group.net.