Investors driving home excellence at Bull Valley Golf Club

WOODSTOCK – New owners are working hard to make Bull Valley Golf Club more than one of the most challenging golfing venues in the country. They want to make it a destination ... worldwide.

Gary Rabine, co-owner and chief executive officer of the Rabine Group headquartered in Schaumburg, joined with three other partners to buy the course on Feb. 29.

“We paid less then $2 million but after the purchase of new golf carts, greens equipment, interior updating and initial course improvements we will have about $3 million invested,” Rabine said. “These improvements will help to build the new Bull Valley brand.”

When Rabine joined with partners Alan Miller of West Dundee and, Mike Eesley and Jason Sciarro of Woodstock , the course was saddled with debt and treading water. Capmark Bank of Utah took over the course, receiving the deed in lieu of foreclosure. However, the 18-hole course, located at 1311 Club Road in Woodstock, retained its management team.

“The original owner spent $12 [million] to $15 million to build the course in 2005,” said Rabine, of Johnsburg. “A golf course company bought it for approximately $7.5 million and a couple years ago the bank took it back.”

Now, he and his partners hope to bring this private course back to prominence. It has about 130 members now, with an estimated 40 others slated to join in the next couple of months.

“If you make it accessible and convenient, people will travel for it,” Rabine said. “And we have a 22-passenger limousine that will pick people up at the depot and take them back to the train or back to a local hotel for the night.”

The key, he said, is getting more visibility and continuing their plan to invest in the club every year. Improvements under way now, in preparation for an April opening, include new maple floors, improvements to the bar area, and expanded dining room for banquets and special events, and other upgrades in the 37,000-square-foot clubhouse totaling about $400,000; a $300,000 investment on all new golf carts, and $200,000 into the course itself.

And why not? Rabine said there is a lot at Bull Valley Golf Club to like.

“I saw in this course the opportunity to nurture an amazing golf property, one that I believe is world class and can be a top 100 course in the U.S.,” Rabine said.

“We wanted to send a message that this will be a high-quality, world-class golf course. We want to be always improving. We are ranked 14th best in the state by Golf Digest. Prior to that we were 17th. In the last two years we moved up three slots.”

General Manager Gary Martin said the course is comparable to those that many professional golfers play, but it will take to build a reputation and the supporting infrastructure in town to host such an event. In the meantime, he is booking weddings and readying the clubhouse in time for for Easter brunch.

“When it fell into the hands of the other owners, things went to the wayside. That happens when you have absentee owners,” Martin said. “Now Gary gives up all the resources we want.”

Rabine believes success will follow, as it has with each of the 10 companies that comprise the Rabine Group.

“Any busines we operate in the Rabine Group is world class,” Rabine said. “We’ve grown in the last 10 years because of great people. We’re pretty good about finding high-quality people and the people there [at the course] are a great team. ... We’re keep all those people rather than starting from scratch, so long as everybody here strives to deliver a Ritz Carlton, world-class experience and serve customers with real passion.”

Bull Valley Golf Club will employ about 35 people on seasonal basis, about 12 full-time. They include James Baird award winning award-winning chef and Woodstock native John Havlis. With that in mind, the club is offering $300 a year dinner memberships that allow access of up to four rounds of golf with three friends at a special rate.

“We don’t want to be in business if we can’t differentiate it and be world class,” Rabine siad. “In this case, we have a course with a business model that fits perfectly for us.”

Rabine bought Blackhawk Run Golf Golf Club a few years ago in Stockton, near where he owns a lake house, and immediately began educating himself about the business.

“I will never say I’m a golf guy or a gold guru. What I do is make sure that the best of the best is helping me with this,” Rabine said. “My think is putting good people together. ... In this case we have a very good staff there, and I’m going to support them with more expertise around them they will ever have. I’d like to get the best golf minds in the world out to the course so we can sponge off of them.

“I’m also will ing to share anything I do. I mentor a lot of people in my business. As long as you are willing to give, you can expect to get.”

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