From runway to fairway

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By Joan Hennessy

Bob Sweeney, president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, says you can learn a lot about a client during a round of golf.
Like any good executive, Bob Sweeney can learn plenty about his business contacts while sitting behind a desk. But the exchange of information can occur just as easily on a golf course. And that’s where the president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance would rather be. 

So it’s easy to understand why Sweeney, a self-professed “extreme golfer,” is among the members of The Presidential, a new golf club in Dulles that opened in May and caters to corporate clients.  “If you think about it, who do you spend four hours with?” asks Sweeney.  “You don’t spend four hours with a whole lot of people. Not only are you laughing and telling stories, but really building a relationship. You know where you stand at the end of four hours.”

The club, a $40 million project to date, sits on a prime piece of land minutes from Washington Dulles International Airport.  The location is key, allowing executives to fly in and be whisked away for an afternoon on the links or a meeting at the high-tech clubhouse.  Billed as a board room with a golf course, the 17,000-square-foot clubhouse offers multiple meeting rooms and a private dining room and is equipped for high-tech conference, computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.  Palladium windows overlook the rolling golf course, and executive chef Steve Mannino — who opened the Olives restaurants in Washington, D. C., and Las Vegas — holds forth in the clubhouse kitchen.

“The nice thing for me is that it is right by the airport,” says Sweeney. “We deal with people all over the country.  This makes it so easy to fly in, hook up and fly out if they have to. I literally think it takes 10 minutes to pick someone up at the airport and take them to the course.”

The Presidential is one of two facilities nationwide devoted solely to the business-golf mix for corporate clients. The other one is Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club in Bedminster Township, N.J., not far from New York City. But unlike Fiddler’s Elbow, The Presidential offers a Jack Nicklaus Golf Academy next door where golfers can fine tune their swings, recorded with multiple high-speed cameras for video analysis.

The fee to join The Presidential is $60,000 a year. Membership entitles four of a company’s executives unlimited golf and meetings at the club. So far, 33 corporations have signed on, including about 15 Virginia companies and several from the greater Washington metropolitan area.  In addition to the sports alliance, members include Steve Case, CEO of Revolution LLC, a private investment group, and Peter Abrahams, publisher of the city/regional magazine D.C. Modern Luxury. 

Nationwide, the number of golfers has grown only by about 2 percent since 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation. But corporate executives say golf remains a part of the price of doing business. “You have to spend money to make money,” says Sweeney. “The way I look at it is that it’s $15,000 a quarter — very doable.”

Developing The Presidential is a consortium of 14 entrepreneurs.  The investor group came together in 2004.  They include Darrell Green, a former Washington Redskins corner back, William Dean, president and CEO of M.C. Dean in Dulles; John C. Lee IV of Lee Technologies, based in Fairfax;  and Mark Koblos, president and CEO of the KTA Group in Herndon.

Even with a white-knuckled Wall Street gripping for a recession, club investors say they aren’t worried about finding the 60 members they want during the first year. Corporations have set marketing budgets, says Eric Wells, president of the group, Presidential Golf Partners LLC, and a commercial real estate developer who is CEO of WestDulles Properties.  “Then in small businesses, those entrepreneurs, even in a recession, have almost a greater need to have access and to have the ability to meet with their peers. In a way, the recession brings out pluses and minuses.”
Lerner Enterprises first envisioned a golf course on the Dulles property in 1998. “They were trying to pick out a best use for the property,” recalls Wells.  The tract includes 70 acres owned by Boston Properties, 50 acres owned by WestDulles and 195 acres owned by Lerner.

More development is coming.  Arthur Fuccillo, executive vice president of development for Lerner Enterprises in north Bethesda, Md., says, “We’re in the process of zoning adjacent property for a full-service hotel adjacent to the golf course.”

The Presidential is a work in progress. The championship golf course will eventually have 27 holes. Later this year, developers plan to start construction on a 60,000-square-foot “grand clubhouse” that will feature a ballroom, more conference and banquet space and a 10,000-bottle wine cellar. It’s scheduled to open in 2010.  The budget for the larger clubhouse, along with the additional nine holes, is $30 million, says Wells.  At the same time, the club plans to gradually expand membership to 150 corporations.

Koblos is already making plans. “As a member, this is clearly where I will have my strategic planning meetings,” he says. “We’ll have two of those a year. We’ll have our company functions there.” 







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