Virginia Golfer May / June 2015 - Page 10

Relies on Consistent Approach Amid Changing Landscape Toll Brothers executive David Richey carefully develops business models to help clubs thrive | by STEVE EUBANKS H e could live anywhere. When David Richey was first approached by Bob Toll of Toll Brothers, one of the nation’s largest builders of high-end custom homes, about creating a golf management company, Richey had his pick of nice spots to reside. The Toll Brothers national headquarters is in Horsham, Pa., north of Philadelphia, and the company has developments in 19 states from Jupiter, Fla., to Seattle, Wash. But Richey chose to stay in the rolling Virginia countryside outside of Washington, D.C. “With technology being what it is, we can decentralize and operate from anywhere in the country now,” Richey says. “I have this large computer monitor where we have video conferences regularly. It frees everyone up to live in different regions or near different properties.” Those golf properties—13 at present, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to the Coachella Valley of California—represent a strategy of slow, thoughtful growth. Even though T Brothers oll has more than 290 communities with homes that start in the $800,000 range, golf makes up a tiny piece of the total pie. But it is an important piece. When well done, golf still adds value. A good example is the company’s signature Virginia property, Belmont Country Club in Ashburn. The physical amenities at Belmont are on par with high-end private clubs in the mid-Atlantic, but Richey wanted the club to act as a bonding agent within the community, something to bring people together and build cohesion among members and residents. “Thursday nights are family nights at the club,” Richey says. “The music is turned up and people bring their kids for dinner. There are drinks and people hanging around the driving range and the putting green.” As a step toward improving the overall experience, Richey brought in acclaimed instructor and British PGA member Mitchell Spearman to operate his golf academy out of the club. On Thursday evenings, Spearman D.C.-based businessman David Richey has focused on steady growth in the management of golf courses and facilities. 8 V I R G I N I A G O L F E R | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 5 10_VSGA_050615.indd 8 SMART STRATEGIES Everything about a Toll Brothers Golf operation is about the experience, something Richey learned during an almost three-decade career at ClubCorp. “We make a very good margin at our clubs by keeping our quality above the competition, while we make sure our pricing is competitive with our competition,” he says. That also means avoiding the “monuments:” cash-sucking clubhouses and ego-driven amenities that will lose money until the end of days. “I watched (homebuilders) and they wanted to build ‘Big Boy Clubs,’ ” he says. “They all wanted to see who could build the biggest Big Boy Club that was going to cost $50,000 to join and jump to $300,000 and all you needed to do was sell it to 300 guys to make it work … And they all convinced themselves that this was going to work. Now look at how many of those clubs are in serious trouble today.” None of the Toll Brothers clubs fall into that category because Richey had a serious heart-to-heart with Bob Toll when the two first entered talks. “I got people to listen to me, especially when it came to big clubhouses,” he says. “All the clubhouses that are a part of our group are tastefully appointed but they also make business sense.” Sometimes those clubs are built from scratch, but other times they are purchased and reimagined, as happened in Upper Marlbor