By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — As Pinewood Country Club looks ahead to 2013 when it will celebrate 50 years serving Slidell, longtime leaders of the club are hoping the facility can weather financial challenges that are threatening its very existence.
Since opening in 1963, Pinewood Country Club is an institution Slidell has grown up with. Providing an outstanding golf course with a nationally-renowned pro, Pinewood was created in the old style of a social club for residents, offering a swimming pool, tennis courts, restaurant, lounge and meeting rooms for local organizations and social events.
But the past 10 years have been the toughest ever for the non-profit club, headed by a board of directors that has tried to maintain all the wonderful aspects Pinewood offers, while still competing with a growing range of other entertainment options.
“I think that’s what has hurt the club the most,” 37-year golf pro James Leitz said. “This club is still wonderful in so many ways, and we have a golf course that is outstanding. But families have so many more entertainment options now—things are not the same as 30 years ago when a family joined the local country club.”
Pinewood has never thrived financially, but has managed to maintain itself with a steady membership providing funds for maintenance and growth. However, Board Membership Chairman Gary Tranchina said club membership numbers are the lowest in years, perhaps due to many new people in Slidell not knowing there is such a club.
“Pinewood doesn’t sit on a main road where everyone sees it, and I actually believe a lot of people are not even aware the club is here,” he said, noting the club location far down Country Club Boulevard off Robert Boulevard. “I think this may be one of the best kept secrets in Slidell, so we are on a campaign to make sure people know we are here.”
Club manager Terri Haithcock, who has been in that position for 25 years, has also seen the change in membership, noting there are 267 members today, compared to 486 in 2001.
“Money has always been tight for the club, but things are tighter than ever right now,” she confirmed. “I agree that some people still do not know we are here, nor do they know what we have to offer, so we are trying to get the word out a little more.”
Leitz believes the change in today’s society is the biggest reason for the struggles the club is facing.
“The family has changed so much in 30 years. It used to be the husband would join the club to play golf every Saturday, but now we see so many women working, and she doesn’t want all their recreation money going to the club. She wants money for a massage, or to shop—so we don’t have so many family memberships as before.”
He also acknowledged other swimming pool options in Slidell has taken some of their membership.
“If you ask golfers in Slidell whether they know about our club, they certainly all do,” he said. “The course quality here is better than ever.
“But we also used to be a place the family would come eat on Saturday night, and now there are 100 restaurants just on Gause, so that has hurt that aspect of the business here too,” he added.
Tranchina, a lifelong Slidell resident who is the new membership chair, is on a campaign to get the word out about the club.
“This club is open to anyone now, unlike years ago when it was private and you couldn’t do anything here if you weren’t a member,” he explained. “Our first message is to our members, and that is to participate in events we have here, since that spreads the word.
“Then we plan to hold special events for the public in the near future and we believe that will allow more people to see what a great place Pinewood is, and boost membership,” he added.
Pinewood was previously a private golf club and you could not play unless you came with a member, but now it is semi-private, meaning anyone can pay green fees to play.
“This club is still very family-oriented and that’s what our members enjoy so much about it,” Haithcock said. “We have so much to offer, not to mention fast and friendly service. And we have several different membership packages, either for golf or without golf. This has always been a great club and we want to make sure it remains here and remains an important part of this community.”
For information about the club, call 643-6892.