A Columbus private investment firm is breathing new life into a 57-year-old Pataskala golf club.
Kassel Equity Group LLC purchased the High Lands Golf Club in April, and has already managed to more than double its membership.
"It's a hidden gem, you'd never know it," said Kassel Equity partner Kurt Bergemann. "It's an amazing course."
He said Kassel had its eye on purchasing a golf course in Central Ohio. "The golf business is really attractive in Columbus," he said.
Bergemann said the Columbus area offers little terrain and Kassel was looking to invest in a golf club that had steep and challenging hills.
"That doesn't exist in Columbus; it's too flat," he said.
High Lands, built in 1957, fit the bill with tall peaks and deep ravines.
Bergemann said the club came under new ownership more than a year ago, but membership dwindled and High Lands fell into disrepair. Kassel saw it as the perfect investment and began an ambitious revamp.
In May, High Lands began a complete golf cart path-paving program.
Partnering with Mid Ohio Paving of Centerburg, approximately $225,000 was invested in newly paved cart paths. The paving was completed in June.
"There is a little more than 5 miles worth of newly paved cart paths," said Chris Foit, High Lands general manager.
"The cart paths have needed to be completely repaved for the last couple of years and they turned out better than we hoped they would. It makes a remarkable difference in the overall playability of the course."
Bergemann said 30 to 40 members returned almost immediately when Kassel began making improvements.
Another project is the club's restaurant and pub.
Bergemann said the club's restaurant was considered more or less an afterthought and reminded one more of a diner with fried food than fine golf course dining.
Bergemann said he believes Pataskala has limited dining options and it seemed like a shame not to take advantage of the club's restaurant.
So, Kassel invested in a new executive chef, Mark Kopp, and set out to create a new relatively upper scale dining option.
Bergemann said diners still need to be members of High Lands. The club has a number of membership packages, including a social membership that costs $25 per year and includes dining privileges. There is a $60 per month minimum restaurant purchase assessment, but that includes alcohol.
He said every Friday in August the restaurant will be open to the public so people can become familiar with it.
"The restaurant wasn't even thought of before as something to be offered to Pataskala," Bergemann said. "We're hoping it's well-received."
Bergemann said High Lands' membership generally lives in the east side of the Columbus area and members are willing to travel to Pataskala not only for the challenging course, but also because High Lands is "less stuffy" than many Columbus private golf clubs and allows members to escape the stresses of everyday life.
"We hear that from a lot of people," he said.
Bergemann said membership exploded so heavily in the last few months that High Lands invested $100,000 in new golf carts, although it is one of the few courses also allowing members to use and store privately owned carts at the facility.
Still, Bergemann believes it's the course itself that has kept High Lands alive for more than 50 years.
"It's a really good, challenging course," he said. "Par here is 4-under anywhere else.
"You don't get tired of it," Bergman said. "It keeps your attention. You'll use every club in the bag."