Wyncote Golf Club celebrates 30 years06/20/2023 12:50PM ● By Steven Hoffman
When the Wyncote Golf Club debuted 30 years ago this week, it was immediately hailed as one of the best new courses in the entire country. No less of an authority than Golf Digest ranked it as the third-best new public course in the entire country that year.
The Heathlands-style golf course in Lower Oxford Township made the most of its breezy fairways, gentry rolling hills and fertile southern Chester County soils, offering a unique and challenging experience for golfers. Jim Pepple, the owner and president of Wyncote, enlisted renowned golf course architect Brian Ault to design a course that is reminiscent of an inland Scottish links course—there are moguls, mounded bunkers, windy rises and a lush carpet of bent grass greens, tees, and fairways that offer golfers a pleasing playing surface.
Wyncote’s front nine years more or less coincided with the arrival of Tiger Woods and his transcendent popularity. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to take up golf during the “Tiger Boom” years of the mid- to late-1990s, and Pepple’s par-72 course featured four tees and ranges from 5,454 yards from the front tee and 7,149 yards from the back tee. Golfers of every ability and age could enjoy a round of golf at Wyncote.
It’s never easy to run a business. As the sport’s popularity skyrocketed in the 1990s, many new golf courses opened, including some competitors for Wyncote here in Chester County. But as the U.S. economy suffered setbacks—first in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and then a larger hit during the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008—not all the once-successful golf courses could find their way out of the rough.
Wyncote has survived an economic recession, the Great Recession and a global pandemic to emerge on the other side. At 30, the Wyncote Golf Club is on an upswing with whole-in-one offerings—fabulous fairways, friendly service, food, and fun.
You have one chance to make a good first impression
The accolades for Wyncote Golf Club haven’t stopped since it officially opened on June 23, 1993.
A variety of industry magazines and associations have taken turns lauding the public course for offering conditions and amenities that are comparable to private courses, and golfers have been no less effusive in their praise.
One Wyncote visitor described a fall afternoon spent on the links there as “golfing heaven” in a review posted on GolfPass. “Great course, well kept and always set up to challenge. Walking this course is so much better than using a cart. Try it.”
First impressions are important—including for a golf course.
If a person drives for an hour or more to try a new course, he or she won’t come back a second time if there’s an unsatisfactory experience. That means that the golf course has to be in good condition—every day. That also means that the service and the quality of the food at the restaurant and pub must be good—every day.
For the last 16 years, Mark McGreevy, the general manager and superintendent at Wyncote, has been charged with overseeing the conditions of the golf course. He has a degree in turf grass science.
Pepple, meanwhile, knows the land and the Oxford community very well. He was just ten years old in 1957 when his father purchased the farmland in Lower Oxford Township where the golf course is now situated. Through the years, the farm grew to include 3,000 acres with 800 cows. By 1973, Pepple took over running the farm. He continued to run the farm, and by 1986, plans were starting to take shape to achieve another dream: Bring a world-class public golf course to the Oxford area.
In 1988, he hired Ault as the architect to oversee the design and construction of what would become Wyncote Golf Club.
The permitting process alone took two years. Once that was out of the way, things came together quickly—and quite perfectly.
“1992 was the best year to build a golf course,” Pepple explained.
Much of the work on the course took place in about ten months because the weather cooperated.
The temperatures only got above 90 degrees a handful of times that summer, Pepple recalled, so the growing conditions for the grass was close to ideal.
Heavy rain is bad when a golf course is under construction. Pepple recalled one day when a thunderstorm rolled in to the area. At nearby Lincoln University, four inches of rain hammered the countryside. At Wyncote, though, just a half an inch of rain fell, and the course was fine. It was a close call, but things broke the right way. As any golfer will attest, luck factors into the game. It also factors into the success of any business—at least a little bit.
“It’s a good product, good luck, good people, and a commitment to service. That’s how you get it done,” Pepple said.
Wyncote Golf Club reimagines its dining offerings
As Wyncote Golf Club celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, Pepple and his staff are eager to unveil the results of a complete reimagining of the dining experiences that are offered at the club.
The scope of the project goes far beyond a simple revision of the menus at the restaurant and pub, which are now simply known as The Restaurant at Wyncote and The Pub at Wyncote.
The remodel of the restaurant and pub gives each a new look. For the restaurant, a big emphasis was placed on being authentic to southern Chester County. They incorporated as much local woods as they could during the remodel, turning to Hearne Hardwoods for lumber that was used. Other woods came from local barns. The main dining area in the restaurant now has enough space to accommodate 80 diners. A long table close to the bar has been imagined as a “community table” and it can be utilized as a long dining table for one large group or as a community table by several couples or small groups.
One of the goals of the reimagining of the dining areas was to establish a distinctive quality for the restaurant and the pub.
“All golf courses have signature holes,” McGreevy said. “Why shouldn’t a restaurant have signature tables?”
The Pub has a very comfortable feel. The Pub at Wyncote offers professionally crafted cocktails, cold beer and a limited menu. Guests can enjoy patio seating, great views and great conversations in a comfortable environment. Freshly baked snacks and prepared meals are also available for golfers before and during their round.
Pepple compared the renovation and rebranding of the dining spaces to what Wyncote does with its golf course on a regular basis. He tasked McGreevy with leading the effort because this is what he does to help maintain the high standards for the golf course.
Pepple said, “Mark takes on projects on the golf course every year, whether it’s improving the greens, or the sand traps or some other aspect of the course to improve the experience for golfers.”
Jon Reither is Wyncote’s director of food and beverage. He has more than 25 years of experience in the industry, including stints at the Kennett Square Golf and Country Club and Hartefeld.
Pepple, McGreevy, and Reither spent a year listening to what people liked about the restaurant and the the pub at Wyncote—and listening to what could be improved with each. Then they set out to make the changes a reality.
“We did a lot of research,” Pepple said.
In addition to listening to guests at Wyncote, they talked to restaurant managers in Kennett Square to find out what works for restaurants locally. Reither even reached out to residents who live in the homes closest to the golf course. They were surprised to find that, after all these years, some neighbors still held the misconception that you had to golf in order to enjoy food at the restaurant or pub.
That is not the case. The restaurant and pub are open to the public, just as the golf course is.
Pepple, McGreevy, and Reither collaborated on reimagining the dining options. Reither said that McGreevy has emphasized the goal of ensuring that the food and service at the restaurant and pub matches the consistent quality of the golf course itself.
“Mark really had a clear vision about elevating services,” Reither said.
They recently finalized an exciting, new menu that features, fresh locally sourced and seasonal foods, which combine to provide an upscale but casual dining experience.
Since the restaurant and pub are open to the public they make sure that there are plenty of affordable options on the menu.
Another initiative at Wyncote has been to utilize the space available to meet some community needs. For instance, there’s always a need for private event space. McGreevy explained that they remodeled one area below the clubhouse into a small, intimate space with a private bar that can be utilized for private events like graduation parties, NFL draft parties, or bachelor parties.
Another room can be used for business presentations.
For sports fans, there are five televisions outside, and three more televisions inside. There will sometimes be live music. Of course, always on display whenever the weather allows are the tremendous views of the southern Chester County countryside. The sunsets at Wyncote are particularly stunning.
30 years of highlights
Over the course of the last 30 years, there have been plenty of highlights. The course hosted two Exelon skins game events, bringing in top professional golfers like Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, and John Daly. The course earned great reviews from numerous other professional athletes, including members of the Philadelphia Eagles and basketball great Charles Barkley, who enjoyed golf outings on the course.
Pepple talked about how he and his wife, Sandy, managed to guide the business through the many challenges as the golf industry has experienced many ups and downs during the last three decades.
When the September 11 terrorist attacks caused an economic downturn that impacted corporate outings, they made the decision to reduce both their weekday rates and weekend rates to bring in new golfers.
At one point, not long after the great recession started to ease, Wyncote utilized some space on the lower level of the clubhouse to partner with a local Curves franchise to boost revenues.
The global pandemic presented many challenges, especially early on, but then by the summer of 2020, people were turning to outdoor activities as the only way to safely spend time together and be entertained. Also, with more people working from home, they can now get away for a few hours to play some golf as part of their day.
“That actually helped introduce golf to a lot of people,” McGreevy said of the changes prompted by the pandemic.
He said that it’s a family environment at Wyncote, which is one of the reasons why it has succeeded where other golf courses in the region haven’t.
McGreevy has been at Wyncote for the last 16 years. But his connections to the Pepple family go back to when he was a teenager playing basketball with one of Pepple’s sons.
“I used to play basketball in his milking parlor,” he said.
McGreevy is just one of the longtime employees on the golf side of the business. Two of the people who work in the kitchen have been with Wyncote for more than 20 years.
“That just speaks to his commitment to people,” McGreevy said. “Jim has said, ‘I am going to find good people and give them the tools to succeed.’”
Pepple said, “As much fun as I’ve had doing it, I could not do it without the staff.”
As Wyncote reaches a new milestone anniversary, the accolades and praise from sources like Golf Advisor, GolfNow, and Golfweek validate the hard work that the staff puts in.
Wyncote Golf Club consistently ranks very high on customer satisfaction surveys.
“What that says is people come here and have a great experience,” Pepple said.