The new owners of Arrowhead Golf Club in Newstead aren't golf professionals and haven't managed a golf course before.
But the friends, both in their 30s, have business experience, fresh ideas – and faith. And they say they're excited about the changes they want to make to Arrowhead, one of the premier public courses in the area.
Partners Clinton M. Holcomb and Lucas G. James are upgrading the putting greens, building a full-service bar and bistro, replacing the course's aging golf carts and making improvements to the banquet facility.
"I think any course that has new ownership, it's an opportunity to change, to bring new things in and to build excitement," Holcomb said Friday as he and James showed a Buffalo News reporter and photographer around the course.
Holcomb and James last week paid $2.58 million through a limited liability company for the 158 acres that include the golf course and the Timberlodge at Arrowhead banquet facility, according to public records.
The property, at 12292 Clarence Center Road just outside the Village of Akron, was owned by a limited liability company led by Pillar Real Estate of Clarence.
The Pillar investment group bought the course in 2013 but Joseph Frey, Arrowhead's original developer and owner, remained involved through this year. Frey and Pillar have no role in the course now, the new owners said.
As a new upscale course, Arrowhead Golf Club was a rarity when it opened in 2004. It's located next to the nine-hole Bright Meadows and the 18-hole Rothlands golf courses.
Arrowhead is a combination of a links and parkland style course, with the back nine built on open agricultural land and the front nine carved through woods. Architect Scott Witter of Lockport's Witter Design, which has designed a number of courses throughout the Northeast, laid out Arrowhead.
The course, known for its signature 18th hole, has more than 60 sand bunkers and six man-made ponds and plays 6,654 yards from the back tees.
"No expense was spared," James said.
The longtime friends, who met through the Home City Church in Depew that they both attend, weren't looking to buy a golf course.
James, 33, owns LJ Construction, a Depew-based company that installs roofs and remodels kitchens and bathrooms. Holcomb, 34, is a real estate developer.
But they said when they learned through their church that Arrowhead was on the market, they were intrigued.
"We went from nominal golfers to avid golfers with a simple purchase," James quipped.
The transaction was a complicated one, because so many parties were involved, but it was resolved over months of talks with the previous ownership.
Holcomb and James said they drew on their friendship, their business experience and their deep religious faith in taking on the project.
"We felt like God was calling us to this," James said.
The partners are laid-back and not prone to overexuberance – think former Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff after any win, or any loss for that matter.
"If you watch what we do, our actions show excitement," Holcomb said.
Arrowhead has 40 workers, most part-time. Holcomb said golfers played about 25,000 rounds at Arrowhead last year, a number that has held steady over the past few years.
The friends plan extensive changes to the course and to Timberlodge, which regularly hosts wedding receptions.
The work on the course itself includes revamping the greens, to allow them to play faster and truer, and the sand bunkers.
"It's a 15-year-old course, and it needs some freshening up," Holcomb said.
The partners also have purchased a fleet of 85 golf carts, all used but with updated features such as USB ports for cellphone charging. They'll bring in 20 new carts this summer.
Inside Timberlodge, the banquet facility that has the feel of a hunting lodge, they're tearing up the carpeting and putting in a new rubber laminate floor that looks like rustic wood.
Golfers who want something to eat or drink after playing the first half of their round – a point known as "the turn" in golf lingo – typically are limited to a hot dog, cheeseburger, bag of chips and Gatorade, bottled water or beer.
The new Arrowhead owners, however, are converting the course's snack stand into a full-service bar and casual dining option they're calling the Turn Bistro. They're installing a 22-foot dark walnut bar top, large-screen TVs and seating at the bar and at patio tables in front.
They're also changing the course color theme, from maroon to teal. The partners said they expect to spend about $500,000 on all of these improvements.
"We're trying to adapt an already very high-end challenging course to meet a more upcoming millennial market," James said.
Of course, since Arrowhead opened 14 years ago, private and public courses have closed, rates of play have declined and golf enthusiasts have sought ways to get more people – particularly young people – to play the time-consuming game.
Holcomb and James say they want to make golf more of an experience and to appeal to young, tech-savvy golfers.
They say they may host family nights on Sundays, with discounted rates for parents and free play for children. And they are working with a software company to introduce a free smartphone app that will use GPS to tell golfers where they are on the course and how far they are from the greens.
But Arrowhead is a 30-minute drive from Snyder, for example. Can the partners convince people in metro Buffalo to make the trek out to Newstead?
"Usually once people come, they see it's worth the drive," Holcomb said.