A seemingly uncertain few months in the history of the Snowmass Club came further into focus last week as the 212-acre, private golf and health club in Snowmass Village announced the hiring of new general manager and Chief Operating Officer Rick Sussman.
The move finalizes a change in management for the club that has come about since Woodmont Properties, one of four partners who purchased the club in 2018 for $18.5 million, has increased its role in running the club, and Scott Brown, a minority partner and the club’s former general manager, has lessened his.
The move could also signal a more active role for Woodmont, a big-time developer based in Fairfield, N.J., in the Aspen-Snowmass real estate market. The company’s holdings to date are mostly in the Northeast, but Woodmont’s CEO, Eric Witmondt, bought a home in Aspen two years ago and, like so many people before him, has fallen in love with Colorado.
Woodmont currently owns numerous residential and commercial buildings and operates three other golf and tennis clubs in New Jersey. The company was also involved in negotiations to buy the Boomerang Lodge in Aspen last year, but ultimately the lodge was purchased by developer Mark Hunt for $10 million instead.
The Aspen Daily News spoke with Sussman and Witmondt earlier this week to hear what Woodmont’s local aims are and see what the next chapter in the Snowmass Club’s — and Snowmass Village’s — history will look like.
Aspen Daily News: Eric, you were involved in talks to buy the Snowmass Club before Scott Brown put it under contract. What is it about the club that attracted you?
Witmondt: We were able to team up with Scott and purchase the club because we always thought that it was a wonderful property that was a little bit tired and needed a little bit more investment and some very strong professional management to bring it private, and we thought we had that potential. The golf course and country club business is a core business of ours. We have three other clubs that were member-owned clubs that we purchased and brought private in the last three or four years.
ADN: And what drew you to the club, Rick?
Sussman: The outstanding facilities, membership and a location like this are certainly attractive, but I think more than anything, it’s the opportunity to be on the ground floor of some changes, new ownership, maybe a little change in direction, and be part of building a great future for the club, the members, the staff and the owners.
Witmondt: When we bought the club with Scott, we always knew that we wanted to bring in a very, very experienced, professional, high-caliber, best-in-class general manager and chief operating officer. We’d been doing a search with a national search firm, and Rick Sussman was the cream of the crop of that firm’s candidates. Once I met Rick, I instantly knew that he would be a perfect fit for the club, and I think once Rick visited the club, he knew it would be a perfect fit for him, as well.
ADN: Rick, you’ve run a number of clubs in warm-weather places like California, Arizona and Texas. What made you decide to move to the mountains?
Sussman: When I was in northern California at Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club for 11 years, my wife and I owned a home in Lake Tahoe for 10 of those years. I love the mountains. I grew up in New York, but I’ve skied since I was a kid. I’ve skied Colorado a lot of times. We love the environment and the weather and the mountains in general, and the outdoors.
ADN: Have you skied in Aspen?
Sussman: I have never skied in Aspen or Snowmass, but I am looking forward to it. I stare out the window every day, looking at those slopes, going, “Come on, snow!”
Witmondt: I’m a big skier, and I’ve been coming out to Aspen since I was 18 years old, so, for 35 years now. In that time, I’ve probably only missed five years, and I’m out as much in the summer as I am in the winter, because I’m a big believer in the saying of Aspen: “You come for the winter, but you stay for the summer.”
ADN: Your other golf clubs are in New Jersey. What do you think will be different about a club in the mountains?
Witmondt: First and foremost, the Snowmass Club is a year-round club. Our other clubs are more seasonal. They’re spring, summer and fall and not open in the winter. Secondly, and most importantly, the club is very much a part of the fabric of the community, and community outreach and involvement are going to be critical for our success. That’s something that is much more important at the Snowmass Club than our other facilities.
ADN: If you don’t own property at the club, what kinds of membership are available?
Witmondt: There are primarily two types of memberships: an athletic membership and a golf membership, and then are some subcategories in those. We have a number of memberships available to sell to the public and to residents in the community.
ADN: This is your first property in Colorado, but you’ve said you want to get more involved in the community. Do you see yourself purchasing more properties in the Aspen area in the coming years?
Witmondt: We are very interested in getting more involved in investing in the community because we think Aspen-Snowmass is unique, and we think it’s a place where we want to have some of our roots. We’re not going to move there full-time, at this time in my life, but I want to spend more and more time there each year with my family. I would very much like to be a bigger part of the community, as would my business partner, who’s also from the New York area.
ADN: It seems like the club has been through a lot of owners and management groups over the years. What do you bring to the table that is going to make your tenure better than the others?
Sussman: For me, I think it’s my background in club operations, understanding members and what their needs are and how to provide that for them.
Witmondt: This is sort of a personal investment for me and my partners, and we really see that our focus on the hospitality business and wanting to do things that are best in class is very congruent with what Aspen-Snowmass is always about. It’s a best-in-class community, best-in-class environment, and we believe that our business acumen and our personal touch, along with Rick’s day-to-day guidance, will be able to polish some of the tarnish off this golden gem and bring it back to life in a way that everyone can be proud of and that the community will embrace.