The Union League is weighing a bold expansion, from its Broad Street temple to the Civil War's victors - where generations of successful Philadelphians have joined to meet, talk, eat, and drink - with a plan to take over the historic but membership-challenged Torresdale-Frankford Country Club on Grant Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.
It has also bought a Shore place, in Stone Harbor.
League leaders have called a Wednesday membership meeting to ratify the proposal to take over the 118-year-old golf course and its clubhouse, on 150 acres 14 miles from Center City via I-95 and State Road.
According to a presentation made to members on March 25, the Union League hopes to offer "unlimited golf" to members who want it for $3,600 a year, plus pool, tennis, dining, and shooting.
That would raise total Union League fees for full golf members to about $8,000 a year, which boosters say is in the range of what you would pay for suburban country clubs anyway, once you got past the initial membership bond.
Club officers would not speak for this column.
Under the proposal, the Union League would advance $2.5 million to pay off Torresdale-Frankford's debt and borrow $8 million for capital improvements.
The presentation noted the League already has $15 million in long-term debt, or almost $10,000 for each of its 1,550 regular members; its endowment fund totals $6.2 million. (The League has a larger number of senior, junior, clergy, military and out-of-town members who pay less.) Torresdale-Frankford has 146 "certified members."
In the presentation, country-club boosters promise, in bold type, that they will not hit current League members up with a special assessment to pay for the deal.
Since the proposal projects that the golf club will operate at an annual surplus of less than $200,000, on revenues of $4.5 million - including $2.7 million from membership dues - the League will need to sign up a lot of golfers if it is to fund the debt service.
The League acknowledges in its presentation that the National Golf Foundation expects 500 U.S. golf courses will close over the next six years.
But courses in cities that offer "a vast array of amenities and "innovative facilities" will do well with both aging baby boomers and young, active players, the League predicts, citing its consultants.
Big downtown clubs in New York and Atlanta also operate country clubs.
Separately, the Union League has acquired the Back Yard restaurant in Stone Harbor for $600,000 and plans to open it "as a wonderful break-even seasonal BYOB" for members by Memorial Day, according to the March 25 presentation.
In making the case for growth, the League notes its membership has shifted: Though two-thirds lived on the country club-studded Main Line in 2000, only about four in 10 do now, while the proportions living in South Jersey and Center City have doubled.
If golfing heads south, it can always sell the properties. Assuming there's still a market. Fore!
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