Cambridge Springs native Darin Foltz has spent much of the past 10 years in Kansas City, where he owns a company that provides concessions to professional sports teams.
But he said each visit home to Crawford County had him thinking about the 106-year-old Riverside Golf Course. More than once, he told his brother-in-law, school teacher Zachary Hale: “If that thing ever comes up for sale, tell me.”
Eventually, Foltz got tired of waiting.
Last year, in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown, he reached out to owner Linda Christiansen and asked if she might consider a sale.
In March of this year, a group that included Foltz, Hale, veteran restaurant operator Jeremy Ball and Jamie Loehrke, owner of Green Prosthetics and Orthotics in Edinboro, closed on a deal to purchase the 242-acre golf course.
Now, less than three months later, the four partners say they’ve come a long way toward returning the golf course, located on Route 19 just north of Cambridge Springs, to its former glory.
Changes started with a new sign, paint and a new roof for the building as well as a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
The former pro shop has been transformed into a new space called The Turn, a combination pro shop and bar that serves food.
The goal, Loehrke said, has been to create a newer, better version of a golf club with a proud past.
“I think what makes our group is the fact that we are taking some of that tradition and history of not only the Riverside, but Cambridge Springs, bringing that back and marrying it with something new,” he said.
The owners, several of whom have backgrounds in construction, are working now to complete renovations of the property’s restaurant, which has been renamed The Rambler.
The restaurant, described by owners as contemporary American, was inspired by famed American hobo and author Leon Ray Livingston. Livingston, often referred to as “The Rambler,” had written that Cambridge Springs was one of his favorite places to stop, Ball said.
The building’s banquet room is also being renovated and will be renamed the Kelly Ballroom, a reference to the former Kelly Hotel that stood on that space prior to 1915.
“Priority No. 1 was to resuscitate the building,” Loehrke said. “It hadn’t been touched since 1987.”
Renovations have been extensive, he said, and have included the installation of a new bar, new floor and the removal of barriers, giving all restaurant patrons an unobstructed view of the 18th green.
“For us, that is the artwork of the property,” Loehrke said. “There isn’t a bad seat in the house.”
The owners aren’t quite ready to show off the new restaurant, but it won’t be long.
“We are bringing it from nothing back to something,” Loehrke said. “We have been working there 14 hours a day. We have only been there three months. What we have done is staggering.”
Ball, who serves as general manager for the new business, said he started his career at age 16 down the street at the former Riverside Inn, which was destroyed by fire in 2017.
Ball, who studied hotel and restaurant management at Pennsylvania State University, worked in a number of Philadelphia restaurants before returning home to work at the Riverside Inn again. He later worked at the Riverside Brewing Co., which was built on the site of the former inn.
His brother, Jeff Ball, who was chef at the Riverside Inn, will serve as chef at the golf course.
Looking back:Fire destroys Riverside Inn
New business:Brewpub plans take shape for site of former Riverside Inn
Jeremy Ball acknowledges that he and his partners have taken a financial risk. But based on early reviews —even before the opening of The Rambler — he’s feeling good about the future.
“It’s more exciting than scary,” he said. “It’s nice to see everyone reaching out when they come and see the improvements.”
Hale, a business teacher and an avid golfer, said the partners in the new business have been putting their construction skills to use, working almost daily on renovations.
“People who have been coming through have been very excited,” he said. “We have seen the positive response. It does kind of take the pressure off a little bit.”
The foursome of owners isn’t saying how much they have spent or plan to spend. But they do say the investment won’t end with improvements to the building.
Course superintendent Mike Bochert, who was retained from the previous ownership, is at work improving the course.
Riverside has added 40 new golf carts and eight Phinn electric golf scooters.
Like his partners, Hale has confidence that the new equipment, improved facilities and hard work will make the property sparkle.
“I think people are going to be surprised when they see it,” he said.
Contact Jim Martin at 814-870-1668 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@ETNMartin.