Nifty at Fifty: CCNC Looks Ahead to Maintain Relevance
When the Country Club of North Carolina (CCNC) was founded 50 years ago, everything connected with the project was secondary to golf.
Fifty years later, little has changed.
"Golf is still king," said Saeed Assadzandi, the club's general manager and chief operating officer.
But as the landmark development prepares to celebrate its anniversary this month, Assadzandi acknowledges that ongoing shifts in consumer attitudes and lifestyle preferences mean that even an exceptional golf experience is less likely to attract and retain members than it once did.
"The whole industry is -changing and clubs are evolving," he said. "We are a full-service country club, so we need to pay attention to the whole club, not just golf. We need to make sure that the other amenities are just as good as the golf."
The challenge, then, lies in preserving the club's traditions, meeting the shifting needs and expectations of members, and creating higher standards.
"It really boils down to value," he said. "The overall club experience must provide a larger value on a daily basis than what our members are investing financially. We want our amenities and facilities to be first class because, on -average, we have 35 so-called 'moments of truth,' or opportunities to exceed or fail in what we do.
"As soon as a member walks in, we're under the microscope."
To that end, CCNC has hired Stagaard & Chao Architects in Pinehurst to assess the club's 48-year-old clubhouse, halfway house, tennis building and other physical structures.
"We have to determine what our needs are today, and imagine what they will be in 20 years," Assadzandi said. "You have to stay current in this business in order to stay relevant."
CCNC was the brainchild of the late Richard A. "Dick" Urquhart, a Raleigh accountant who wanted to bring together prominent families and business leaders in North Carolina while limiting the number of members from each locality across the state.
"To get the base membership, we went to visit those communities and invited some of the key people there to join the club," said Charles C. "Cliff" Cameron, 93, one of two founding -members still living. "The way we set up the -memberships was a big boost to increasing our image. CCNC soon became known in England and Canada, just like Pinehurst."
Cameron remembers -sitting with Urquhart and founding member James Poyner at Raleigh Country Club after a round of golf in the early 1960s.
"Dick said it was time that we built a club of our own in Pinehurst instead of having to rent a room every time we go down there," Cameron said. "It was probably after a drink or two, but Dick was the one who started it all. He found the land and was on the scene all the time."
Not only was Urquhart the principal driving force behind the founding of CCNC, he served as club president for more than three decades.
"None of the founding members made a lot of money on the investment commensurate with the risk they were taking to pull the thing off," said John May, a Pinehurst attorney who has been a member since 1974 and succeeded Urquhart as club president in the mid-1990s. "Today, you have developers who get into something like this to make money. The founding members did not do that. It was not a business venture to them."
The 42 founding members included Voit Gilmore of Southern Pines and Lawrence Johnson of Aberdeen.
Club member Pam Bradley, who is writing a book about CCNC, said her research underscores that golf was the top priority.
"The (Dogwood) golf course was laid out first, then the residential lots," Bradley said. "The lots were developed solely to raise money to build the course. You have very few homes today that line Watson's Lake because half of the course wraps around one side of the lake."
The residential element enabled CCNC to attract members from throughout North Carolina, across the country and around the globe.
"It's a unique mix," May said. "The guys that put CCNC together had a pretty good concept and, for the most part, they would concur that their concept has been pretty well preserved."
Assadzandi said the club currently has 928 members, including 201 who live outside North Carolina.
"What sets this club apart is the quality of the people here," he said. "They're very genuine. They're very down to earth. It's very refreshing to see in a country club atmosphere."
Jeff Dotson, the club's director of golf since 1991, agreed with Assadzandi's assessment.
""We've always felt as if we're not a stuffy, formal club," Dotson said. "The members appreciate it because they don't feel like they have to dress up to come to the club. That doesn't mean that people are walking around in jeans, but our society is getting more casual in a lot of ways. That is one reason the whole culture of clubs has changed a lot in the past 20 or 30 years."
Dotson said the club has also become more family oriented.
"Our membership has gotten much younger," he said. "There are more families with younger children than there were 20 years ago. That's one of the most noticeable changes. So our challenge has been, and will continue to be, to offer quality products and services.
"It's a hard sell if you can't find ways to involve the whole family in the club."
With those times changing, club president Bill Clement, a member for three decades, said infrastructure improvements and renovations are long overdue.
"Among other things, we need new plumbing, new wiring and have some roof leaks to fix," Clement said. "We also want a more modern look that is aesthetically pleasing."
Although Clement jokes that the club has "no idea" if the project will cost "$1 or $15 million," he said the funding source will be identified before the first hammer is swung.
"We've always operated extremely conservative from a financial standpoint," he said. "We have basically operated with no debt and have a pretty good balance sheet."
Assadzandi gives the club's financials a "9 3/4 on a scale of 1 to 10."
"The club is really in an enviable position right now," he said. "Very few clubs around the country can say they have no debt and quite a bit of money in reserve. That really sets this club apart."
CCNC plans to engage every member at its 50th anniversary party the weekend of March 22-24.
"We have a birthday weekend every year," Clement said, "but this year we're going to celebrate a little harder with an eye toward the future."
Cameron, who lives in Charlotte but maintains a home at CCNC, said he has already made arrangements to attend.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "The club has an image that, to me, gets stronger every year. It's the greatest club in the world."
Contact Ted Natt at (910) 693-2474 or email@example.com.
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