BRISTOL, Tenn. — Although the owners of The Country Club of Bristol have struggled to keep it open since 2005, Rick Rainville said Monday that the club’s glory days are just beginning.
Rainville is president and managing partner of KOVA Golf Management, which signed a managing agreement with Bristol Preservation and re-opened the golf course Monday.
KOVA, an acronym for Knowledge, Opportunity, Vision and Accountability, is a 25-year-old Florida-based company.
Bristol Preservation is owned by longtime local businessman Roscoe Bowman and Friendship Automotive Owner and President Mitch Walters.
“The Country Club of Bristol is the birthplace of organized golf in Tennessee,” Rainville said. “It has a rich history as one of the oldest clubs in America, and we want the community to know we want to keep the tradition and history alive and well.”
In 2005, the nearly 125-year-old club was on the brink of closing when membership drastically declined and remaining members struggled to make payments on the club’s debt. Later in the year, Interstate Realty owners Brent Roswall and Mike Nidiffer bought the club in an effort to revive it.
Trupoint Bank obtained the course about six years ago and continued managing it until Bristol Preservation purchased it in July 2015 and entered into a lease with Integrity Golf Co. and Knight 39 Holdings to manage the course until 2025.
Integrity Golf Co. sold IGC-Bristol Country Club, the club’s tenant, to Knight 39 Holdings in March and the company, based in Orlando, Florida, walked out on their 10-year lease in August 2016.
Local restaurateurs Patrick and Renee MacNeil signed an agreement to manage the club shortly after Integrity closed it. In January, the MacNeils announced their decision to close the golf course. Since that time, the club’s members and non-members have registered and paid for green fees at Lifestyle Fitness, which is located next to the club.
Rainville said even with all the challenges to keep the course open, he believes it’s worth the effort to keep it going.
There’s a lot of work to do,” he said. “But we’re making a commitment to the people of the community to do the work.”
Walters said he’s been disappointed in the events that have taken place, but “good things happen to those who wait.”
“About five months ago, KOVA management contacted me about the possibility of running the club,” he said. “They’ve been doing their due-diligence on the club, the community, and Roscoe and myself, just as we’ve done on them. We’ve all known since about October that this was a good partnership — it’s just taken us until now to get the deal done.”
Plans are for KOVA to renovate the exterior of the clubhouse, build out the front lobby and open the restaurant under its new name “1894” — which could also be a part of the club’s new name, according to Rainville.
“The golf club was established in 1894,” he said. “And branding the club around that history is important.”
Discussions concerning the rebranding are ongoing, said Rainville.
A search is also underway for an on-site manager — but until one is hired, Bill Delayo and Tracy Bradbury, the company’s vice presidents of operations, will handle daily operations.
It’s also important for the club to have an on-site golf pro, said Rainville, so it’s possible that the manager could be a Professional Golfers’ Association member.
Longtime club member Scott Hatcher, who was at the course Monday afternoon, said he’s excited about KOVA taking over management.
“I think it’s awesome. We’ve [club members] been promised a lot in the past — but I truly believe these guys are going to do it,” he said. “They’ve taken the time to meet the members, find out who we are and what we want. And I believe that they are going to do what they say they will.”
No major renovations are planned for the course, but there will be ongoing conditioning, fertilizing, weed management and pest control to build the health of the turf.
Beginning today, single and family club memberships will be available for the next eight months, according to Rainville.
Single membership fees for existing members are $190 a month, including green fees. And for an added $100 a month members will have unlimited access to golf carts.
A family membership is $350 a month with an added $200 fee for unlimited golf cart use for the entire family.
Members that pre-pay for the eight-month membership will get a 15 percent discount on fees.
Because of extensive renovations to the main level of the club it won’t open until sometime in 2019, according to Rainville.