New Castle Country Club sale negotiations took four years

Negotiations to find a buyer for the New Castle Country Club have been in the works for four years, according to former club president Joseph George.

Now the chairman of the Avalon Option Committee — organized to explore the sale of the club to Avalon Holdings Corp. — George said a majority of the club's 225 shareholders voted on April 30 to sell the club and approved a plan to dissolve the nonprofit corporation that runs the country club. This should be completed in about three months, said current president Walter F. Kustra.

George said the club has 330 members but only 225 are shareholders with voting privilege.

"They voted overwhelmingly in favor of the sale," he said. "Ronald Klingle, CEO of Avalon Holdings Corp., will assume the club's debts and make it a part of holdings, which include Avalon Lakes Golf Course in Warren, Avalon at Squaw Creek Golf Course in Vienna, Ohio, Avalon at Buhl Park, formerly the Sharon Country Club, in Hermitage, the former Boardman Tennis Club and fitness centers. Members will have access to all facilities.

"This is a good move," George said. "It will change how things are done. We'll be part of a larger entity and members will have access to additional courses. This is the best move for the membership. It's necessary."

New Castle Country Club sale negotiations took four years

NANCY LOWRY | New Castle News

Current New Castle Country Club president Walter F. Kustra, left, and past club president Joseph George, who served as chairman of the Avalon Option Committee, concluded the sale of the New Castle Country Club to Avalon Holdings Corp. on Monday.

"We didn't have to sell," said current club president Walter Kustra. The concern, he said, is to keep the club going.

"We weren't attracting younger members. They were looking for different things, health facilities, casual dining. With this partnership, we'll have that. The moment seemed right for for us and right for them. They've built up Avalon Inn, there's no reason to think they wouldn't do the same here. He'll make this top notch, right along the lines of Nemacolin (Country Club),"."

He added, "The club has been around since the 1920s, it deserves better. It needs improvements."

In recent years and with dropping membership, George said, the club has had difficulties keeping up the infrastructure.

He and his committee sought possible partners His advisory committee included Bob Baxter, Bill Bonner, Ray Burgo, Scott Fehre, Lou Merryman, Gerry Mitchell, Ron Patrick, Anthony Staph and Vince Tutino

"This will get us back to where we once were," George said. "A lot of work needs the be done that we have been unable to do in the past 10 to 20 years."

He added that Klingle, who has been acquiring golf clubs for several years "is a good person. I have confidence he will do right by the club."

George said his goal through the negotiations, was to ensure the facility would remain private and the facilities be maintained. Serving with him on the committee were Merryman, Patrick, and club treasurer Anthony Razzano.

"It is important to the members, the board and committee that the community continue to have a country club of this caliber," he said. (Klingle) and his people have integrity. They will see that the club remains for the community. I'm comfortable that we found the right people to take on the responsibility."

Kustra recognized George as the "architect of the deal" to continue the country club.

"We didn't have to sell," he said. "If we couldn't have found the perfect match for us I would have continued to run the club, to pay the bills, to keep up the golf course, meet all obligations. We were considering lowering annual dues. But Joe headed up negotiations and kept the membership engaged They were with us every step of the way.

"We all felt this was the right move. There was no split vote," Kustra said noting that only one member "was lost" from the time negotiations began and the paperwork signed.

The current board of directors of the country club are president Kustra, vice president Chris DeJoseph, secretary Arthur Prioletti, treasurer Anthony Razzano, and members Michael Bonner, Dr. Terry Bailey and Dr. Andrew Matta.

The two said they believe they will see membership growth due to Klingle's pricing structure which opens the club "so the average person can belong."

"Klingle will be successful," Kustra said. "The club will be professionally managed, marketed and advertised."

"Our shareholders stuck with us," agreed George. He noted that some of the current members have belonged for decades and some families go back for generations.

"Now we're looking forward to the net chapter," George said. "It will be a good one. The Avalon people are people of integrity. They are honest and show good leadership.

"It's bittersweet," George said. "We're giving up the reigns of the club to a new group, but it is the best move."

"Without a doubt," agreed Kustra.

Both added no major changes will be made when ownership changes hands.

Avalon has agreed to keep all 40 to 50 full- and part-time employees. Westminster College, which has called the New Castle Country Club its home course for years, will remain under the same conditions.

In addition, the club's "three honorary members" will be kept. They are PGA Tour veterans Rocco Mediate and Harry Toscano and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger

"The New Castle Country Club has always been a jewel in the region," Kustra said. "Joe and I are the end of the line. Under our tenure, with me as current president and Joe as past president, we have positioned the club which is more than 95 years old, to continue for the community. It is important that a city like New Castle have a country club like this and it thrive and be here for generations to come. I'm proud to have been a part of it."