Holderness & Bourne x Tom Coyne Operator Of Sullivan County Golf Club

In Good Company with Sullivan County GC Operator and Author Tom Coyne

Thank you for hosting us at your club! Can you provide a bit of background about where we are?

You're here in Liberty, New York, at Sullivan County Golf Club. 

It opened in 1925, so we're coming up on 100 years. Not too long ago, Sean Smith reached out and said this golf course is going to close. He followed up by asking what can we do? Are you interested in it? Do you know anyone who could help?

So I came up to investigate and poke around. At the time, I had a book deal in waiting and had been looking for a good place to write about. Then I thought, what if I did more than just write about this? What if I actually really sunk my teeth into it and took it over? 

John Bourne, Alex Holderness, and Tom Coyne at Sullivan County Golf Club

The decision to invest in SCGC came together rather quickly. We decided around March to proceed and in April we finalized contracts. On May 1, I became the operator with the stipulation I had to decide whether I was also going to become the owner by November. 

For the last four or five years, it had been losing money and the previous owners worked very hard to keep it going. They wanted it to stay a golf course and thought I could bring some of my experience to the table to draw attention to the club. Hopefully by leveraging some relationships like the great relationship I have with Holderness & Bourne, I could garner more attention and attract more people  here to do some different things.

Membership at our 9-hole course has grown from about 50 to 250, which is amazing! Most of them being non-resident members and people from all over the world who think it's a cool story. Now we're even selling merchandise including your stuff, which has been absolutely fantastic. 

So Liberty, New York is about two hours north of the city. Tell us about the town.

We're about two hours northwest of NYC, which is great because the Catskills were such a destination. Sullivan County had more hotel rooms in 1960 than any county in America. Most of them closed around the 1980s but some stuck around into the 90s.

In 1931, a plane took off from the eighth fairway and flew to Denmark in one of the first transatlantic crossings, which was probably the biggest thing to ever happen in Liberty. That's why our logo is the St Andrew's Cross with a golf club and a propeller. We wanted to incorporate some of the history into the logo, which is why we're putting it on the Holderness and Bourne shirts! 

Sullivan County Golf Club Flag

So you've got a historic 9-hole course that was almost 100 years old that had been through its heyday and was on its last legs. Then you came in with the goal of rejuvenating it?

Yes, members have been telling me it's in the best shape they've seen in many years. This is wonderful to hear, because I'm on the mower every morning. I'm out there cutting fairways and raking bunkers and filling divots. It's personal. I'm personally invested. 

But, you know, as an operator I'd love to get your advice in taking over a new business. There's this impulse or feeling that you want everything to be fixed and perfect tomorrow. That's been the toughest thing for me to deal with. I don't know how you pace yourself knowing that you can't get it all done today?

Are you working on building a team up here to help operate the facility moving forward? 

Absolutely. I’ve seen the great culture that you have been able to create at H&B and I'm trying to emulate that. I want to create something that has consistent, good messaging and feels very authentic. A culture of fun, respect for the game and the course. 

We have some product in your shop here, which is also available on your website. How has that been received?

It has been awesome to have H&B here and online. Having people look at the shirts and see the quality is again part of that culture I want to build. People are posting pictures of the stuff arriving, and they're so excited that we have this great product and logo.  

Holderness and Bourne merchandise in Sullivan County Golf Shop

Thanks again for having us and we appreciate your time. We're excited to get out there and see the course!

Well it's a big deal for us to have you here! I'm excited you're going to see the course. It's different and fun. It's a bit like a sports car, as it has a little bit of everything. We'll have some climbs up the side of the mountain. We'll come out of that gauntlet and actually play some flatter holes. So you get a lot of variety. One of the fun things here is when you play 18, you play a different tee box the second time around, so the holes will feel different.