Today’s announcement that the DuPont Country Club has been sold to local owners came as abundantly welcome news to members and thousands of nearby residents.
The two investors – Ben duPont and Don Wirth – have deep connections to the club, and have said they plan to make major investments in the facility and continue to run it as a “first rate” family-focused club.
The 98-year-old Rockland club sits on one of the most beautiful and extensive pieces of Brandywine Valley real estate, and neighbors and local officials had feared the DuPont Company’s announced sale could mean significant development and loss of open space and parkland.
We caught up with duPont this afternoon to hear about his plans for the club and why he felt it was important that ownership stayed local.
TSD: This is an unusual business move for you –
Ben duPont: It was never my life’s ambition to run a country club, and I don’t want to run it. We wanted to do it because if we didn’t, we think an out of state private equity firm would have bought it, and I don’t think that would have ended well. I think they would have sliced it up and developed it. I think the community didn’t want that at all. It’s a great community and a great place to live. At the same time, this has been an underinvested and underused facility. We are thinking that with a little tender loving care, this would be a big deal.
Fact is, this is an awesome facility on the banks of the Brandywine. But I do want to make sure this continues to be a reasonably affordable club. I want the Zip Code Wilmington alum (a program duPont founded) to be able to afford these great family and sports amenities.
TSD: What are your plans for modernizing the facility?
duPont: The high spot is we are transitioning the club to be more sports and family centric.
Thanks to M&T, we are investing $18M in the club after purchase.
We are building 3 swimming pools that are covered in the winter and vented in the summer. A teen pool, a kiddie pool with slide and a lap pool for adults. The pools will be right next to each other and will be located where the lawn bowling is located today.
We are also adding a 17,000 square foot state-of-the-art fitness center and relocating the driving range, which today is not contiguous to the club, to the Montchanin course. So that will go from 18 holes down to 9 or 12. And we are adding an interesting indoor golf facility. It will allow you to play golf in February where you are essentially inside. It will be climatized. Think of it as three big garage doors at a different angle. The machine will pick up all of the balls.
We are doing this without raising dues or fees through the end of 2019. It is $94 a month and we are holding to that. Highest initiation fee right now is $2,400.
TSD: What happens to the current staff and management of the club?
duPont: The existing management team is staying on board. (General Manager) Dan Broadway is staying on. We want it to be seamless. There are more than 200 employees.
TSD: And that includes Rob Wirth, his tennis academy and other instructional programs?
duPont: Yes, I look at this as we are partnering with existing management.
TSD: What’s the timing of the deal and when will the changes start to occur?
duPont: The deal will likely close at the end of May. Construction would start this summer, and that will take a year or two. The pools probably will not be ready until 2020. In the near term, we are going to improve the quality of the food dramatically.
TSD: What will be your main focus when you take ownership of the club?
duPont: There are 1,700 members today, down from 5,000 when I joined. We hope the pools, upgraded restaurant and athletic facility will attract new and younger members. We are so fortunate the bank was willing to step up to help us. This is the right thing for Delaware. We hope the club will remain a vibrant part of our community and grow in the years ahead.