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A New Jersey Knickerbocker

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While the word “Knickerbocker” has historically alluded to natives or residents of New York, in a not-so-far-away area of New Jersey, the expression is more often associated with something else, in this case, a Century-old country club where the quality imparted in a mixed offering of amenities combines with the professional stellar of a courteous staff and a “crown jewel” in an 18-hole course created by one of the greatest legends of golf.

Whether in terms of the sport of golf or the business of golf, or that which simply compels the love of golf, there are few who command such a measure of multidimensional distinction, but Donald James Ross was, indeed, such a man. After investing his life savings to purchase a trip from Scotland to the United States in 1899, he not only went on to garner esteem as a player, but became one of the most respected, if not influential, of golf course designers that have ever been.  From 1900 to the year of his death in 1948, Ross was integral to the designing or redesigning of some 400 courses which weave throughout America and became the very fabric of the early golf industry. Aronimink in Pennsylvania, Pinehurst #2 in North Carolina and Inverness of Ohio are among the many contributions from Ross which have since become known among the greatest of greens in golf, but in Tenafly, New Jersey, Ross’ mastery of golf design has been copiously complemented by a country club that exacts equal expertise in offering a range of activities and amenities that cater not only to golfers, but the diverse recreational interests reflected within any family. Yet, as Knickerbocker Country Club General Manager Gavin Inglis affirms, the Donald Ross-designed golf course remains “the crown jewel” of the property.

The property here is quite different from any other, not only due to its history which dates back to 1914, but also because of its geographical setting.  As Inglis explains, Knickerbocker’s club house, paddle courts and swimming pool are located in Tenafly, New Jersey, but most of the golf course is situated within the nearby jurisdiction of Bergenfield. “We have the rare privilege of paying taxes to two municipalities,” says Inglis. “What’s interesting, if someone has a decent drive off the first tee, the ball can actually land in a different zip code … for our members; this has become a good talking point when discussing aspects of their home club.”

Yet, there is still more which separates the club from other facilities, which as Inglis says includes the diversity of its membership and the diversity in terms of things to do. Knickerbocker’s membership is comprised by more than 550 people that range from the Greatest Generation to Baby Boomers and Gen Xers as well as their children or grandchildren. In deploying a service philosophy that recognizes the needs of multiple generations among its membership, Knickerbocker County Club has sufficiently evolved over the century of its operation. The classic golf course underwent an extensive restoration by Ron Forse between the 2008 and 2009 season; but beyond this, there are many more amenities on the grounds for members to enjoy. Inglis recognizes that those who are presently joining the club are in their 30’s, 40‘s or into their 50’s. He sees a lot of young families becoming members and states that statistically, most people do not join a club for the first time when they are 60 or 70 years old. The ability to use of the club’s facilities, year round, provides something for all interests and age groups. These offerings, alongside the seasonal aquatic and tennis facilities (4 Har-Tru courts open during summer months and 3 platform courts [known simply as “Paddle” at the club] open during the off seasons), give members a reason to enjoy Knickerbocker, anytime they like.  Of course, there are also the traditionalists, generally the more senior members, who come to the club as a sort of refuge; a place they feel comfortable coming to just to unwind, read the paper, socialize and have a meal.

Member happiness is the number one priority at Knickerbocker. Inglis says that drives a lot of attention to detail in taking care of the facilities, but also constant focus on operational efficiency and imparting friendly, professional customer service. Inglis says that the management team here truly understands the importance of quality and consistency, and therefore, they lead by example. Everyone is walking the walk. This trickles down the line of management, to all employees, which in turn is experienced by the club members; a measure that surely keeps annual renewal rates high. It may be a country club, but as Inglis says, it still needs to be run like a business.

In celebration of accomplishing 100 years of golf and service, Knickerbocker plans to commemorate in ways that are inclusive of all members. The staff and Board are planning a large, family-style, party that will include BBQs, entertainment and midway games followed with a fireworks display at dusk. This is planned for mid-summer, 2014, when most members are in town. The desire is for as many members possible to participate in, and enjoy, this event. In addition, a centennial committee has been working on the publication of a handsome, hard cover, coffee table book that will cover the history of the club. There are also plans in the pipeline for additional, smaller celebrations throughout the year. Inglis says this is most definitely an exciting time for the club.

The legacy of Knickerbocker relates to much more than golf, for this is an institution which has fulfilled a vital role in its community in terms of supporting initiatives which beneficially impact lives beyond that of golfers. From supporting the YMCA and Habitat for Humanity to local hospitals and more, Knickerbocker County Club has been a host of numerous charitable golf tournaments. As Inglis says, “Golf is one of the few gentlemen’s games left in the world… there’s a code that people adhere to, and our club is about more than golf … our club, our members, care about their families and care about the community, that’s one of the reasons why we’re a very family-oriented.

What might the next 100 years at Knickerbocker look like? Inglis provided a little insight into this, saying “The Board has commissioned a strategic planning committee which is hard at work developing a vision that will serve as Knickerbocker’s road-map to the future … This will be very helpful to myself and the Board, going forward…It is not complete yet but it will continue to embrace family values, and continue to appeal to families in this area. It will include maintaining the quality of our offerings and where there is opportunity, improving the quality, and making our offerings more relevant to the young families of the 21st century. The beginning of 2015, being our 101st year, we hope will be the marker of the start of a second century of the Knickerbocker tradition”

 For more information, please visit their website at   Knickerbocker

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