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September 1, 2017

Manhattan Makeover

One of New York’s finest private clubs undergoes range renovation behind the foresight of an experienced leader

By: John Torsiello

His father, Dick Smith Sr., was an accomplished player who launched a long and successful career in PGA governance at the Section and national levels. The elder Smith served in the coveted role of PGA of America President from 1991-1992. The elected office remains one of the highest honors and most influential positions in all of golf. His decorated career also includes the 1980 Philadelphia PGA Section Professional of the Year Award and induction into the Philadelphia Section’s Hall of Fame in 1992. He would be inducted into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame in 2005.

Then there’s his uncle, Tom (the elder Smith’s brother), a 50-year member of the PGA of America and winner of the 1986 Philadelphia Section PGA Professional of Year Award.

Not one to rest on the laurels of a name, Dick Smith Jr. has led a successful and noteworthy career of his own – earning accolades along the way such as 2003 Philadelphia Section PGA Professional of the Year and serving as Section President from 2006-07.

Now he leads Manhattan Woods Golf Club in West Nyack, New York, which was quickly lauded as one of the finest layouts in the state after it opened in 1998. He credits watching how his father navigated various leadership roles within the PGA for nurturing his own visionary capacity. He recognizes when change is needed. And while Manhattan Woods is a premier private club and pristine course, he could see that something was missing.

The Gary Player design is a beautiful beast – a parkland-style course defined by hills, wetlands and fescue bordering the fairways.

Located only a half hour from midtown Manhattan, the private club has attracted a who’s who of New York City movers and shakers. They come for the course and upscale amenities, but missing from the equation of excellence was a dynamic practice facility.

“In 2016 we began a project to upgrade the level of our practice facility to match the rest of the golf experience at Manhattan Woods,” explains Smith Jr., who oversees the club’s 200 members as the PGA General Manager. “Our range facility was weak and our short game area was poor, so we wanted to raise the level to fit the experience we provide in all other areas of the club.”

It took a complete team effort to formulate a plan for the upgrade of the practice facilities. The club worked with noted course architect Doug Smith of Golf Design Unlimited on the development of the new practice facilities and hired Turco Golf for the actual build out.

Work began in on the approximately $1 million project in November of 2016 and concluded this past July. A unique attribute was the installation of a new fairway bunker in the practice area. “Fairway bunkers are a prevalent feature on our course,” says Smith. “We wanted to provide members and guests a better opportunity to prepare for shots they’ll face during regulation play.”

The 10th tee was moved in order to add an expansive Short Game Center, which provides members with catalogue of practice options. “Having the new shorter target green on the range (50-80 yards) in conjunction with the new chipping green from 0-100 yards gives the golfer two ways to practice their short game,” describes Doug Smith, the facility’s architect. “The bunker at the chipping green replicates the ones on the course, while the new putting green also replicates elements of the existing greens. We were very aware not to overdesign the new putting green, leaving many areas to practice straight putts from 0-80 feet.”

As of late August, the new practice facilities had only been open for eight weeks, but early reviews have been strong. “The members love it and it is getting a tremendous amount of use. I’ve heard nothing but positive comments, nothing negative so far,” explains Smith.

At this stage, however, the long-term impact of the ambitious project has yet to be seen. Smith is confident that their investment in a new practice range will pay dividends in a variety of ways.

“First and foremost we hope to see a return on the investment with membership growth. Second is an increase in lesson income and events. Short game clinics and dedicated events at the Short Game Center will allow for some ancillary returns,” he adds. “But in the end, member satisfaction is the key return. Our hope is with this state-of-the-art practice facility, along with a newly renovated locker room two years ago, paired with a great golf course we will be the place for people to join in the area.

“I learned from the best and my father taught me everything I know about this business. The key thing I think about every day is to go to work with a positive attitude – with all members, guests and fellow PGA Members in mind – and do what you can to make their lives and the PGA better today than it was yesterday,” he adds. “If you give the best effort you can and surround yourself with good quality people, you will be successful in the business and in life in general. I think the Smiths have done a pretty good job at this throughout our careers.”

Indeed. And the members of Manhattan Woods Golf Club are reaping the benefits of the foresight and leadership of Dick Smith, Jr.