New owners take over Park Hills

Park Hills Country Club is now open under new ownership and is open to the public for the first time.

Park Hills Development LLC, comprised of Steve Sheetz, Michael Fiore, Leonard Fiore Jr. and Richard Fiore Sr., took over operations of the club Wednesday after finalizing the purchase of the property from Park Hills Country Club Inc., a nonprofit corporation, for $2.225 million, said Michael Fiore, managing member.

The sale included the 6,100-yard, 18-hole golf course and all club assets, such as the clubhouse, restaurant and swimming pool.

Last summer, the club’s newsletter stated that the club was in dire need of funds, and at some point, the board of directors was interested in selling the club, which had been valued at $2 million.

Fiore said he stayed in the background, but when no one stepped forward, he decided to take action. He talked to his brothers and Sheetz about forming a group to purchase the club.

“I consider the club a keystone to Blair County, an integral part. It has been here since 1927,” Fiore said.

“I kept thinking back about going to Lakemont Park as a kid, then someone came in and bought it and destroyed its integrity and then went bankrupt. It changed a great asset to our community and history. I didn’t want to see that happen with Park Hills.”

The group had to convince the club membership to sell, and the members approved the sale by an 88-6 vote, Fiore said.

“They had tried to market it for a year; we were the only proposal. I think they looked at the integrity and value of having our families involved in the turnaround with Park Hills. They were comfortable with what we were trying to do, and our commitment to the community was shown by the vote,” Fiore said.

Fiore called the purchase a community investment.

“We don’t usually invest in businesses that are losing money; this was the case,” Fiore said. “This wasn’t an obligation, but it was our way of giving back.”

As part of the purchase, the new owners have agreed to keep Park Hills as a golf course for five years, but after that, there is no obligation, Fiore said.

“Our vision is to keep this a community asset as a golf course for a long time,” Fiore said.

The group has obtained a public-private golf course liquor license and decided to open all facilities to the public for the first time.

However, it is important to attract members to the club, which had about 450 members in the 1980s. The number had dwindled to about 160 at the end of 2013.

“The viability will depend on membership. This is a partnership with the community. If we don’t have the members, it will be difficult to succeed,” Fiore said. “Membership has grown. We have added about 50 new members since December. Our goal is to get at least 100 new members this year.”

Membership – a single golf membership is $109 a month and a family membership is $149 a month – has advantages such as discounted cart fees, preferred tee times, full swimming pool privileges and more. The club is trying to attract younger members by offering a 40 percent monthly discount for anyone 29 and under and a 25 percent discount for anyone 35 and under.

The group has hired Dave Elliott, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the food service industry, most recently as director of operations with Best Way Pizza, as club general manager.

“This group has made a big investment of equipment, remodeling, and we now have new golf course maintenance equipment to take care of deferred maintenance issues,” Elliott said. “I’ve been a member here for 20 years. I am looking forward to making the place what it was like when there were 450 members.”

Rich Conwell, a Class A PGA professional and teaching pro, has been hired as club pro. The new chef is Joby Dick, and Brown Golf Management, which has a regional office in Harrisburg and has 17 properties on the East Coast, has been brought in as a consultant.

“We know nothing about running a golf course. They bring their expertise to help us,” Fiore said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.