McConnell Golf


From the Great Smokies to the Sea, John McConnell is reshaping the future of private club golf.

Raleigh, North Carolina: It had been two years since my last interview with John McConnell, founder of McConnell Golf. His hobby-turned-business is now a $60 million per year entity with over 5,000 members and 12 private clubs, spread across a 400-mile range from the rolling hills of Tennessee to the coast of South Carolina.

I enjoyed my two-hour reunion with John at Raleigh Country Club, where his foray into golf began. His wry wit and knowledge of the golf industry was evident from my first question.

“I never thought this would become my vocation,” expressed McConnell. “After building from the ground up and then selling several medical software companies, I was looking for my next step in life. I’ve been blessed in the business world, providing me the capital to venture into golf.”

Raleigh Country Club, Donald Ross’s last design, was in desperate shape with an uncertain future. “It would have been a travesty to see the course bulldozed for a cookie-cutter housing development, so I purchased the club, intent on righting the ship,” said McConnell. “My first order of business was a small one, relocating the dumpster in the corner of the parking lot. It was a real eyesore!”

After numerous investments, Raleigh Country Club now boasts a robust membership roster.

“The transformation has been revolutionary,” praised McConnell. “When I took control, there was no initiation fee and it was bleeding cash. Now, our initiation fee is a respectable $20,000, and the club is profitable.”

With the success fresh in McConnell’s mind, in short order, John purchased several other private clubs in the Carolinas. “I must admit, my love for golf clouded my judgement. Not all of my acquisitions have been home runs,” confided McConnell. “It’s an interesting time in the industry. Many Wall Street hedge funds that scooped up or inherited equity clubs during the deep recession are shedding their golf assets. I think many of them underestimated the cap-ex requirements and extended timeline required to turn the corner.”

A Game Of Accountability

Born in Abingdon, Virginia, John was raised on the family farm with his three siblings. A true country boy, he was a solid “A” and “B” student who loved baseball and attended Virginia Tech.

“Watching Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf television series hooked me on the game,” recalled McConnell. “My brothers and I would place tuna cans in the ground to make our own course. My first club, definitely low-tech equipment, was a stick with a block of wood nailed to its side. My brother realized if he cut the block of wood at an angle, the ball would get airborne, giving him a competitive advantage.

“A mixed hand-me-down hodgepodge of clubs from my uncle was my first set,” fondly remembered McConnell. “I started playing less baseball and golf became my sport of choice in college. It teaches accountability and you have no one else to blame for a bad day than yourself. Similar to ups-and-downs in life, you need to forget, forgive, and move on.”

Support For The Next Generation

McConnell Golf facilities are the proud host to the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) Men’s and Women’s College Championships.

“I came from a rural farm family with modest means and I’m committed to paying it forward. I am flabbergasted by private clubs who shun junior golf programs,” critiqued McConnell. “There are tens of thousands of junior golfers who would thrive in the sport, but lack access and financial means to play. We have made it a point to provide full access to several up-and-coming juniors at each of our courses. The program has already produced several players with full college scholarships.”

The Tiger Effect

Two of McConnell Golf’s properties host PGA TOUR events. “Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina, is the site of the PGA TOUR’s Wyndham Championship, and Wakefield Planation in Raleigh, North Carolina, presents the Rex Hospital Open,” said McConnell. “When I purchased Sedgefield Country Club in 2011, the Wyndham Championship was in its fourth year of a 10-year contract. While it’s prestigious to host a PGA TOUR event and it raises enormous charitable funds, history shows tournaments don’t generate membership sales, so it didn’t influence my transaction price.

“Hosting a PGA TOUR event is an enormous undertaking. After the tournament team exhales Sunday evening after the trophy presentation, planning starts the next day for the following year. Logistics from erecting corporate tents, laying television cable, stocking concession stands, and managing volunteers is daunting.

“Three years ago, Tiger Woods committed to play in the Wyndham the Monday of tournament week. His ‘me against the world’ aura generated a 40 percent spike in ticket sales, requiring a scramble to double everything from security to bottled water inventory,” continued McConnell.

“I recently renewed our contract with the PGA TOUR for another five years. As the third oldest Tour event, it’s good for the area, and a valuable community asset. At McConnell Golf, we play with the big boys from regional golf teams to aspiring professionals on the Tour, and ultimately the world’s best on the PGA TOUR.” 

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