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The Bridges back in business

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The Bridges at Tillsonburg is back in business.

At a meeting held at the golf course Tuesday night, shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favour of selling to a local ownership group who came up with a gameplan and proposal to buy the club.

The Bridges at Tillsonburg had closed its doors in November 2013.

Basically, shareholders had two voting options. Restructure the ownership or take the route of filing for bankruptcy. A total of 120 votes were cast and 119 votes were in favour of selling to the new ownership group.

"I had the privilege of meeting almost every shareholder," said Peter Hancox, the new Director of Golf at The Bridges, "and everyone was so positive and happy they were going to be playing golf (at The Bridges). I talked to a lot of people, and I know a lot of golfers in this area who have shares, and... it was nothing but a positive experience here Tuesday night. Everyone walked out of the doors happy.

"The phone's been ringing off the hook since... word gets around quick. So many people are excited."

Some golfers called to ask if they would have a men's league, ladies league, junior camps... and local businesses were asking if they could have the same tournament dates again.

"People have invested themselves into The Bridges, and with all the rumors going around, people are picking up the phone and just wondering what's going on."

Nothing could happen, officially at least, until Wednesday morning. A press release will be forthcoming, he said, once everything is finalized. The Bridges' website will soon have updated information at www.thebridgesattillsonburg.com. Alternatively, Hancox can be reached via email at phancox@thebridgesattillsonburg.com.

"We are still a public course," said Hancox, "and from what I'm hearing around the area, that is something we still need to advertise... that yes, we will have fulltime members, but we are a public club. What I want is to offer a private club feeling that anyone can come enjoy. A club where you can get that private club experience, but still pay your green fee at the door."

The Bridges' new management team will include Brian Haum, head superintendent; a new food and beverage manager; and the director of golf.

Hancox comes to Tillsonburg with a background in Professional Golf Management from Durham College (Oshawa), four years at Otter Creek Golf Course, and most recently a term at Sunningdale Golf and Country in London.

"Brian's been here the last four years," said Hancox, noting Haum was the only staff member who retained his position over the winter. "In my opinion Brian's done an unbelievable job of it. He has background working at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club, which is No. 1 in Canada some years. That experience, and what he's done in the last four years... they knew they couldn't afford to lose this guy because he's done such a good job with what he's had, and he will continue to do so."

There will be no membership committee or membership board, he said.

"We're going to control our own department and report to the ownership group as we see fit. In today's golf industry, this is the way things work. In my experience, this is the way decisions get made faster, better, for everyone involved."

Hancox said the ownership group has a vision to do something good for the community and make The Bridges the best golf experience in this area.

"We all know, the golf industry is kind of overrun with competition. There's higher value courses, where you're going to spend an arm and leg to play, there's lower value courses, kind of bang for your buck. We need to come out with a very, very competitive green fee pricing, something that's a little bit different from last year.

"We're still going to offer very affordable league rates for men's and ladies, and we want to see as many people come out to support that, and new people... we've got some great ideas.

"We're going to have our yearly dues, and obviously it's going to be a very, very competitive rate for a full membership and a couples membership. We're hoping to do a lot of corporate business, too.

"Above all, we need to find a way to bring them back consistently. And that's where I'm going to kind of come in and re-evaluate the customer service level, on every standpoint. We're going to have an outside services team, that will meet every guest in the parking lot. We'll always have complimentary water bottles and fruit available on the first tee... we just want people to say 'wow, this is changed, this is somewhere I can play,' or say this is somewhere I can bring clients, bring guests... This is going to be a hotspot, I think.

"I can see their vision, and I can see it coming together. The ownership group has put the people in place that they see fit to achieve their vision, and from what I've seen, being here a very short time, it's very attainable."

The Bridges has roughly one month before their tentative opening day, which Hancox is hoping to be some time around the Easter long weekend.

Over the next four weeks they are re-staffing, cleaning it up, and making some minor course tweaks.

"We've had a bunch of applications and resumes coming in, which is good to see because people know there's going to be something here and people are going to be golfing.

"Brian (Haum) has his assistant working today, and they were down on No. 17 green trimming some branches so that green can get some more air circulation and sunlight, so it will be a lot more receptive, and a better green to putt on. Brian's got some ideas... and he might not be able to accomplish all those ideas this spring, but they're getting everything ready. We want to make a big impression on opening day.

"We need to bring back the value to people," Hancox summed up. "I think, shortly into the season, there's going to be a list of reasons why people will come here, rather than somewhere else."

chris.abbott@sunmedia.ca

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