Playing the Field

When he interviewed for a job as marketing director at Vermont National Country Club in South Burlington, Jim Glanville didn't know he was being observed for a position as interim general manager of the club. He was tendered "an offer I couldn't refuse."

by Jason Koornick

Jim Glanville, general manager of Vermont National Country Club in South Burlington, likens a country club to a small hotel where the guests are always known. Exclusivity is a major selling point for the club's 266 golf members and 90 social members.

Woody Allen could have been talking about the Vermont National Country Club when he said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

Jim McDonald didn't know he would end up owning the 400-acre golf course and country club in South Burlington when his company, J.A. McDonald Inc., was hired as the general contractor in 1997. Through a combination of luck and timing, McDonald was in a financial position to acquire the entire property at the intersection of Dorset and Swift streets when the original developers ran out of money in early 1998. He doesn't even play golf.

In the last four years, the organization has overcome financial and management obstacles to become one of the most exclusive country clubs in the state. With a stable membership base, local management and a few hundred acres of the most sought-after land in Chittenden County, the Vermont National Country Club has come into its own. The homes sprouting up in the six developments along the tree-lined course are the financial force that allows VNCC to exist.

Golf drives the VNCC experience, according to general manager Jim Glanville. None other than golf great Jack Nicklaus designed the 18-hole course, his first in New England. McDonald hired Nicklaus' company soon after he acquired the club.

"The exact shape of every hole is Jack's vision," Glanville says. "It's been an unparalleled golf experience right from the beginning." A picture hanging in Glanville's office is a reminder of when Nicklaus played the course in 1999.

For average golfers, getting onto the fairways is becoming more difficult as the club restricts access to the general public in order to increase the value of membership. Members must pay a one-time refundable deposit almost equal to the average annual salary in Vermont and yearly dues in the thousands of dollars.

A cap of 375 members guarantees that the club will remain restricted to a small group of wealthy golfers and their families. Glanville says the exclusivity is a major selling point for the 270 members.

Although the club is deemed "semi-public" by the owners, access by the general public is limited to a few hours on the weekend. Dinner at the luxurious clubhouse is members only, although the public is invited to lunch. Less expensive social memberships are available that include event and recreation privileges.

"We have come to realize that membership is most important at VNCC," Glanville says. "Having been a previous member, I can appreciate the thinking behind that."

Glanville says the club caters to families by providing a range of amenities. Golf will always remain the main activity at VNCC, but the pool, tennis courts and clubhouse broaden the club's appeal.

"The family market is important to us in order to sustain the game. Golf's longevity will fall into the hands of young people," Glanville says.

The clubhouse is the heart of VNCC. The 10,000-square-foot building houses a restaurant, lounge, pro shop and ballroom. A massive porch surrounds the western side offering clear views of the course and Adirondack mountains. Future plans might include a full-service health club and spa.

Woody Allen's words can also be used to describe Glanville's career. The 32-year-old Baltimore native fell into the position of general manager in much the same way McDonald acquired the property through timing and luck.

Before he became the interim general manager of VNCC in the summer of 2000, Glanville had served five years as director of sales at The Inn at Essex. He moved to Burlington soon after he married a woman from Jericho. Previously he worked at the ITT Sheraton hotel in Baltimore's inner harbor.

David Evans, superintendent (at left), and Zack Wyman, head professional, survey the beautiful golf course at Vermont National Country Club, designed by Jack Nicklaus. Of the club's 75 to 80 summer employees, 25 are groundkeepers.

Glanville says he fell into the hospitality business by "fudging my way as an assistant banquet manager at the Sheraton in Baltimore" soon after he graduated from Central Connecticut State University in 1991 with a marketing degree.

Foreshadowing events that would happen almost 10 years later, Glanville was promoted to banquet manager a mere three months after he was hired.

What the 21-year-old Glanville lacked in experience, he more than made up for in diligence. He worked 80 hours a week to pull off high-end banquets at the only kosher-certified banquet facility in Baltimore.

He quickly learned the importance of quality service. "Anything less than perfection is unacceptable. When you're putting on $50,000 events, everything had better be right," he says.

Glanville married his college girlfriend, Tess Farrington, a Vermonter, in 1994. "I came here to ski, so I/ve had a real affinity for Vermont since I was a kid," he says. "I realized that working in the hospitality field allowed me to live wherever I want."

In 1995, Glanville sent his resume to area hotels. It arrived on Jim Lamberti's desk at The Inn at Essex at an opportune time. He was hired as director of sales to work closely with the staff of New England Culinary Institute in planning catered events. He calls Lamberti a mentor.

"Jim brought a level of experience to our company that we didn't have before," Lamberti says. "He has a tremendous sales ability but also a sense of humor that you don't usually find in someone his age."

In the summer of 1998, Glanville joined VNCC as a member. There were 40 members and nine completed holes. He says the early club attracted "golf nuts." He established a relationship with the general manager that blossomed over the next 18 months and led to a job interview.

At the time, the club was being managed by Golden Bear Club Services, a third-party management company owned by Nicklaus. During his interview with Golden Bear, Glanville didn't know he was being considered for the interim G.M. position.

"The interview process was fishy because they were grooming for a general manager," he remembers. The club made Glanville "an offer I couldn't refuse," and two weeks later he was the general manager. He says his operational experience in hotels was a perfect match for the job at VNCC.

Golden Bear was on its way out. The club decided to save on management fees by hiring its own team. Glanville became the permanent G.M. in the fall of 2000. He calls McDonald's decision to allow the existing staff to run the club "a great morale booster."

The club was well along in establishing its reputation as a premier golf facility. The clubhouse opened in the spring of 1999, and the back nine holes came online soon after. Membership sales were moving along, Glanville recalls.

He says the club overcame the challenges of bringing a new product to the area. In the early years, the sales team had to convince potential members that the club was here to stay. "There was the element of the unknown along with the history of financial ups and downs," Glanville says.

Vermont National Country Club caters events for members and, occasionally, non-members. Executive chef Jeffrey Kollmer (left) and Nick de Tarnowsky, catering and event manager, make sure guests are well fed and served.

At the same time, plans were coming together for the construction of homes and condominiums around the course. McDonald hired six builders to construct separate developments that provide a range of housing options. Real estate liaison Kim Fisher says developers were chosen for their quality and diverse areas of expertise.

As the condos and single-family homes became available in developments named Vista on the Green, Fairway Estates and Iron Wood, the club gained legitimacy and membership increased.

"Jim [McDonald] saw an opportunity with the golf course as a nice way to sell homes," Glanville says.

One of Glanville's first duties as G.M. was to fire the chef, who had been at the club since the beginning. "I had to make tough choices to start," he says. "Through my previous restaurant management experience, I learned that you are only as good as the managers underneath you."

He found the perfect replacement under his nose. The sous chef, Jeff Kollmer, became executive chef, a position he continues to hold. "Jeff made the food and beverage service match the quality of the facilities," Glanville says about the transition.

As G.M., Glanville is responsible for overseeing operations and handling memberships. During the summer, the club employs between 70 and 80 people, including 25 groundskeepers. Thirty winter employees deal primarily with clubhouse operations along with real estate sales and development.

"I couldn't create a job that I would enjoy more. It's the best hospitality environment possible," he says. "A country club is a small hotel except that you know your guests every day. It's more challenging and also easier to anticipate their needs because you get to know them so well," he says.

As a manager, Glanville says, familiarity with members makes the job more attractive than working in a transient environment. "We can pro-act and react in a more comfortable way."

Glanville, a "struggling nine handicapper," allows himself toget onto the course once a week. "I see a lot of what not to do on the course," he says with a chuckle.

Glanville's influence is making a difference on the balance sheets. His first year on the job was also the first that the club saw a profit. It has remained in the black. "This year we will generate enough revenue to cover operational expense," he reports.

New homes are selling as soon as they are available, according to Fisher. One hundred fifty-seven townhouses and single-family homes have been built. Fisher says 300 units will be completed in the next couple of years.

The golf course and convenient location draw people to the homes around VNCC, Fisher says. "People like living on the course because it gives them a feeling of being in the country but still close to the city."

Proximity to Interstate 89, downtown Burlington and the suburbs is another selling point. Homeowners are entitled to a membership discount at VNCC.

Forty percent of the people living in the 157 townhouses and single-family homes flanking Vermont National Country Club are members. Kim Fisher, clubhouse manager and real estate liaison, seen here with Glanville, credits the property's owner and developer, Jim McDonald, with recognizing the potential for selling homes connected to the course.

Glanville is proud to report that 40 percent of the people living around VNCC are members, compared to 30 percent of golf course residents nationally. Asked about the effect of a recent permit conflict with the city of South Burlington, he is quick to affirm that the country club is not involved. "We operate independently from the building that goes on," he says. "That won't affect us at all."

Fisher, who has worked at VNCC since 1997, says McDonald has a clear vision of how the properties are developed. "Jim is concerned about the look. He wants quality homes in a nice atmosphere. He has put in place certain guidelines about how things will fit to work for both the golfer and the homeowner. "

Fisher has seen the property through its development history. "The owners and builders are really bringing a new life to the community," she says.

Offerings range from less expensive townhouses to high-end homes that cost up to $1 million. The average price for a home on the property is $300,000. Most single-family homes sell through real estate agents, but the club maintains a permanent display of available units for prospective buyers.

Retired University of Vermont professor Frank Manchel joined the club three years ago because he liked the relatively level golf course. "I like to walk, and it's perfect," he says. He has come to appreciate the club's service, dining and friendly atmosphere. "I haven't met a single person I didn't like here. It's like going on vacation."

Originally published in June 2002 Business People-Vermont