NISKAYUNA — A longtime member of the Mohawk Golf Club has purchased the country club off Union Street and is making further investments that he hopes will set the historic facility on solid financial footing.
Michael Rutherford closed on the purchase Oct. 31, which was 121 years to the day after the club was incorporated.
He has already undertaken upgrades to the cart paths, tennis courts, swimming pool and parking lots. He also froze membership dues for 2020.
“Our club is in great position now, with no debt,” he said Friday. “I think that is going to change Mohawk Golf Club, for sure.”
Rutherford is a Schenectady native who has been associated with Mohawk most of his life — initially as a caddy, later as a member introducing his children and then grandchildren to golf, tennis and swimming there.
He’s now a Niskayuna resident, and is president/CEO of Homestead Funding, the Latham-based mortgage lender he founded in 1994.
Rutherford declined to specify the costs he incurred buying the Mohawk Golf Club, but acknowledged it was a significant outlay. He previously had assumed two mortgages on the property in August.
Rutherford also declined to take full credit for turning the club around, saying that multiple dedicated members have made significant contributions of money and vision.
“There’ve been strong members who’ve done capital projects over the years,” he said.
“I have strong ties to Mohawk for 50 years and I want to see it prosper again. And it will,” Rutherford said. “I think you’ll see it grow again with the proper capital infusions.”
The debt Mohawk had carried was a symptom of a common problem among country clubs: declining ranks of dues-paying members.
“I don’t think any club has a waiting list these days,” Rutherford said.
Jeffrey Frankel, president of the club before it was sold, had been wrestling with this for years.
“The country club environment has changed dramatically,” Frankel said Thursday, explaining that there are only so many people with the desire, time and money to commit to a membership.
“The other side of the equation is that the dynamic of the family has changed as well.”
Frankel added: “The dynamic surrounding the country club has really changed in the last 10 years, maybe even more than that.
"You really have to be more creative and smart about how you create a strategic plan for the business to distinguish yourself from your competition. That’s easier said than done.”
One idea Mohawk Golf Club floated, in early 2018, was selling off 11 acres for housing development. But it was just an idea, Frankel said, never actually pursued.
And Rutherford said Friday it won't be.
Frankel said the new ownership has created a positive buzz in the community, but more important, it has put the club in a better position for the future.
It needed “someone to sustain market and economic challenges in region,” Frankel said, and Rutherford is that person: “He has both his head and his heart in the right position.”
Additional upgrades are coming, Rutherford said, though after two weeks as owner, he hasn’t decided on all the specifics.
“We’re just working on upgrading things throughout,” he said. “It’s a magnificent property.”
There’s a sense of stewardship in his words, of preserving for the future the place so many have enjoyed in the past. The modern lifestyle of young families spending so much time and money on youth sports stands in the way of this goal but also makes country club membership attractive — the club is in one place for a fixed price.
“I think eventually there will be a comeback,” Rutherford said. “For me, I want to see my grandchildren enjoy what I enjoyed. Golf and tennis are lifelong sports that your can enjoy.”