Family heir Ben duPont and a former DuPont Company executive recently announced they’re not only buying the DuPont Country Club, but also investing millions to spruce it up.
Longtime members Ben duPont and Don Wirth believe making the DuPont Country Club more family-friendly will be the key to increasing membership and profits. Country clubs nationwide have been struggling to stay afloat because significantly fewer people are golfing. Currently, there are 1,750 members at the DuPont Country Club, down from 5,000 in 2004.
“The experts that I’ve talked to, and I agree with this consensus, say, families are looking for more things to do together over shorter periods of time. So that means 18 holes of golf for dad by himself or mom by herself is out,” duPont said. “But 9 holes, or a rock climbing wall, or a chance to get fitness, and swim in a pool, or hit golf balls in a driving range — those things are actually on the uptick nationally. And we think by just listening, doing a better job listening to the market that we can turn this around.”
The businessman said they’re investing $18 million to upgrade the club. For starters, they’re improving the internet speed at the club; creating a phone app that allows you to make reservations for your children, order takeout or reserve a meeting space all from your phone. They’re also elevating the quality of food service at the club.
This summer, duPont said construction will begin on three all-season swimming pools, a 15,000 sq. ft. fitness facility and an indoor driving range. Construction is expected to be complete by summer 2020. The club’s three golf courses and 25 tennis courts will largely remain untouched, although, duPont said the club’s par 3 course might go from 18 holes down to nine or 12.
“Instead of all Sunday, let’s spend four hours together. Mom will go work out, dad will go swimming with junior, and the older kids will go play out on the golf course and we’ll all meet for lunch,” said duPont, who sees the club less as a country club and more as an athletic club. “I think long range, if we’re successful as I think we can be, you’ll see us add things like basketball courts, volleyball courts, indoor facilities for year-round sports.”
When the DuPont Company listed the country club for sale last summer, many feared a developer would swoop in and build tons of new houses on the 525 acres of open space. Adding to that uncertainty, the deed restrictions limiting how the land was to be used, were removed.
“There was a lot of apprehension around the Dow-DuPont merger in and of itself because of the impact on people and their jobs, and what may or may not happen in Delaware, and underlying that tension was the country club,” recounted Republican state Sen. Greg Lavelle, who grew up across the street from the club and still lives nearby.
“Clearly we know how important it is to the surrounding community. It’s a gem in terms of golf, and recreation and all of that and then the inherent land preservation that surrounds it. There’s a lot of history there so people were worried about that,” said Lavelle, of the 98-year-old club.
But when it was announced duPont and Wirth were the new owners, there was a collective sigh of relief.
“This announcement represents an ideal outcome for the DuPont Country Club and the local community,” said DowDuPont CEO Ed Breen in a written statement. “As local investors with deep Delaware roots, Ben duPont and Don Wirth are the perfect buyers to build on the club’s past to create an even greater experience for the Wilmington community moving forward.”
As word spread about the sale and the enhancements, duPont said 50 people have already joined as members.
“Why would you join something where the future of it was uncertain, so I think there was some pent up demand here,” said duPont of the uptick. “With a little bit of investment here, we think we can certainly get our money back and if we’re lucky, make some.”
Dues will remain steady through 2019 and duPont thinks a max capacity of 3,500 members will ensure the club doesn’t get too crowded.