The lush green course of the Longview Country Club stirs a sense of nostalgia in Maggie Anderson.
As kid, she spent hours at the club cooling off by the pool or dancing with her dad to live music on special occasions. That nostalgia has pulled Anderson back to the club, this time as its new general manager.
Anderson recently returned to Longview from Vancouver to take the position more than 35 years after she moved away from the town. She is replacing JoAnna Asplund, who stepped down earlier this year to start a new boutique in downtown Longview.
“To get this job is really what I call the circle of life,” Anderson, 58, said in a recent interview.
Anderson hopes to blend her appreciation of the past with fresh ideas to breath new life into the historic club.
Like many country clubs nationally, the Longview Country Club has struggled to retain members as interest in golfing wanes. Nationally, the number of golfers dipped 20 percent between 2003 and 2013, according to the National Golf Foundation. About 200,000 players under the age of 35 quit the game in 2013.
Clubs also took a hit during the 2008 recession, when consumers cut luxuries. To survive, many clubs are relaxing dress codes, restructuring fees, adding family programs and considering selling assets.
Membership at the Longview Country Club has dropped from about 500 in the 1980s to 350 to 375 today, according to the club.
Low revenues from declining memberships financially strained the club. Its prospects started to turnaround, though, when the board appointed Asplund as general manager in September 2015.
Asplund led the club to regain financial stability. Under her leadership, the club’s kitchen underwent a $75,000 remodel to make it more efficient and better suited for modern cooking techniques. The club also added fresh paint and modernized the pool and restaurant areas.
With membership and finances stable, Anderson wants to re-engage existing members and introduce new events.
“This is a big challenge, obviously there’s a lot to be done here. … (Asplund) got the club going. She got it financially sound, and now comes the time when we need to build the membership and get fun things happening out here again,” Anderson said.
Next month, the club will start hosting weekly “Queen of Hearts” events every Thursday, when participants can win a pot of money while also raising money for the club, which is a nonprofit organization. On Queen of Heart nights, the club’s restaurant will feature new dinner specials not listed on the menu.
Other events on the horizon include bingo nights (starting in October), live music, karaoke and possibly weekend breakfasts. Anderson has already planned a big New Year’s Eve bash with a live band from Portland and a special menu.
The club’s restaurant also has a new executive chef, Tony Opolka, who will introduce in all-new menu at the end of September. Anderson was tight-lipped about specifics, but she said it will expand offerings with a mix of traditional dishes with unexpected items to appeal to younger patrons. The new lounge manager, Jen Ronning, is also developing new drink specials.
“Our goal is to be the best restaurant in town,” Anderson said. Anderson has more than 25 years of restaurant experience under her belt and has worked in similar nonprofit clubs in the past.
Anderson said she helped to grow membership and revenues at both the Vancouver Elks club and Orchard Hills Golf & Country Club in Washougal, where she most recently worked. She’s hoping to repeat that success in Longview.
Clay Bartness, longtime club member who serves on the board of directors, said the club was impressed by Anderson’s background at other nonprofit organizations.
“She’s done a good job so far. She’s brought in fresh ideas … We’re just excited about having her here,” Bartness said.
Growing membership and hosting fundraisers will eventually enable the club to upgrade its interior decorating, Anderson said. Recently the club added new linen, glassware and candles at the restaurant, and a maintenance worker has diligently gone through to make repairs and upgrades throughout the main club building.
“I want life back in this club,” Anderson said a smile.