New ownership has big plans for Winnapaug Country Club

New ownership has big plans for Winnapaug Country Club

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — These are busy days at the Winnapaug Country Club, the public golf course on Shore Road that is beginning its 93rd season under new ownership.

The new owners, Joe and Maria Luzzi, closed on the purchase April 17, taking over from George A. Buck of Misquamicut, who had acquired the historic property — a “Donald Ross original” — as a young man in 1969. The Luzzis, Westerly natives, have three children, Jennifer, 24, Jillian, 21, and Joey, 19, and said they, too, would be involved in the business. All three have restaurant experience, Maria noted.

By profession, the couple’s background is in real estate, as investors and property managers; they have two firms, JL Real Estate and Palm Tree Properties LLC. Although golf in the U.S. has experienced a steady decline in recent years — and Winnapaug is not immune, having seen its membership drop by two-thirds since the late ’90s — it’s clear that Joe Luzzi’s passion for the game was a driving force behind this deal.

“I was a member for 13 years and and saw this opportunity and love the property, and love the golf course,” he said. “I thought it would be great to own it.”

Now that he does, there’s a lot of work to be done: leagues are due to start May 1; renovated and refurbished dining facilities are to reopen soon; and a number of other improvements are planned, including the creation of a fully stocked pro shot with accessories and apparel. That’s all in addition to the constant job of maintenance, repairs, and coping with the vagaries of Mother Nature.

In these efforts the Luzzi are relying on a number of longtime employees, including Golf Director Chris Jurgasik, who has been at Winnapaug for 20 years, and the course superintendent, George A. Buck Jr., who is in charge of the grounds crew.

Jurgasik organizes tournaments, deals with the leagues and members, takes tee times, and runs the website, pro shop, and other course operations.

The Luzzis have brought in a new chef, Steve DiSano, to run the kitchen. He is a 30-year veteran of the restaurant business and said he learned to cook from the famous Italian chef Walter Potenza at the Sunflower Cafe in Cranston and the Blue Grotto on Federal Hill in Providence. Before coming to Winnapaug he was the chef for 10 years at Wood River Golf in Hope Valley.

DiSano was chomping at the bit to get back in the kitchen by May 1 — the final hurdle was the town liquor permit. The menu, he said, would be mostly Italian with some local favorites like Rhode Island clam chowder and crabcakes.

Beyond improvements to the facilities and course itself, the Luzzis also said they were committed to raising its profile through increased marketing, and would seek to bolster the membership. Back in 1998, the club had 282 active members: golfers who pay yearly dues to play the course and qualify for certain privileges, such as entry to tournaments and preferred weekend tee times. Most members are from Westerly, Pawcatuck, and surrounding towns, and include a who’s who of people who are well-known in local business, political and professional circles. Jurgasik noted that one of the longtime players, Bill Ferrigno of Pawcatuck, “has been shooting his age for 20 years.”

The number of members has slipped at Winnapaug to about a hundred, part of a trend that has seen participation in the sport fall off across the country and an actual decline in the number of golf courses.

Winnapaug’s guardians would like to stem the tide and, as Maria Luzzi said, welcome new members and golfers to the course. Membership costs have changed little in recent years and have actually declined in some categories: a full, seven-day single membership now goes for $1,600, and there are weekday, family, and junior rates, and a “no frills” rate of $550 that offers discounted prices. Back in 1997, the full single membership went for $1,680.

Bringing more young people into the sport is also a goal, and the certified teaching pro, Lou Toscano, offers junior golf lessons for kids ages 6 to 16 in July.

Maria Luzzi said that much effort and years of investment decisions had already gone into preparing for the course’s revitalization, and she expressed gratitude “for all the community support, and excitement from new and existing members.”

“We are confident that with hard work, perseverance and dedication we will provide the community with a beautiful 18-hole public course and clubhouse for all to enjoy.”


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