Born and raised in New Jersey, golf has been in Christopher Schiavone’s blood since he was a young child. He has adopted the lessons he learned from his family’s 30-years of experience in the golf business and applied those principles to RDC Golf Group, a premier golf management and ownership company.
Christopher Schiavone’s foray into entrepreneurship began when he co-founded Dartcor Food Service, an owner/operator of corporate food service facilities. Dartcor was recognized by New Jersey Business Magazine as one of Northern New Jersey’s Top 20 Privately Held Corporations.
In 1993, Mr. Schiavone expanded his business portfolio and established RDC Golf Group. He has been the driving force behind the company and has been recognized as one of the ten most influential people in New Jersey golf by the state’s largest daily newspaper, The Newark Star-Ledger.
Affiliates of RDC Golf Group, own and or operate Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township, New Jersey and Shackamaxon Country Club in Scotch Plains, NJ. In addition, RDC provides management services to Tallgrass Golf Course in New York.
I grew up as a golf club brat. My father and his partner built a country club in the 1960’s, and I spent much of my summers from age 8 through college either working or “hanging out” at the club. By “hanging out” I mean playing golf when allowed — never when busy or if I would slow down play for any members –or being a nuisance to the pro, the locker attendant or the General Manager.
The General Manager of the club, an old-school club manager who wore three-piece suits and had three-gimlet lunches, was a gentleman and was like an uncle to me. He had two grown daughters and no sons, so he treated me like his son, taking me on golf trips — I first played Pine Valley when I was 16 — giving me my first Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue with Cheryl Tiegs and teaching me how to make chicken-fried steak — he was originally from Georgia.
I thought the “club life” was pretty great and eventually started asking a lot of questions about the operations of the club. I didn’t always like the answers, sometimes thinking they were too much in the “that’s-just-not-the-way-
MATT WARD: How would you assess your local golf market for the ’16 season?
CHRIS SCHIAVONE: While some courses are still struggling, we have begun to see very modest signs of growth overall.
MW: What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing and what steps are you taking to deal with it?
CS: We have been dealing with the ever-increasing government impediments to success in the form of taxes, fees, regulations, compliance, healthcare mandates — I could go on.
But the greatest thing about entrepreneurs is their ability to overcome any obstacles. It is liked a forced carry in golf…one way or another you have to get to the other side.
MW: Two of the courses in your portfolio — Forsgate and Shackamaxon — feature classic designed courses from the hands of Charles Banks and A.W. Tillinghast respectively. What drew your interest to the respective properties and what makes them better now because of your ownership than in previous times?
CS: I was drawn to the great layouts of the courses that have and will continue to stand the test of time. We have lengthened the Banks Course while preserving the relevance of Banks’ original design features and hazards. At the 100-year-old Shackamaxon, we’ve addressed a number of deferred maintenance issues as well as converted a very short par-4 into a highly acclaimed par-3 Tillinghast inspired “Reef” hole. Very few Tillinghast courses are privately-owned and that is also an added bonus.
MW: You’ve been outspoken in the past concerning courses that are publicly owned which then compete against privately owned but daily fee operated facilities. Can the two entities work with one another in the marketplace?
CS: They can and they do, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best situation. We would be better off without government ownership in the golf industry. At least some government-owned properties are seeking the expertise of golf course management companies to assist in operating their businesses.
MW: Customer service is routinely mentioned by many in the golf industry. What’s your definition of the term?
CS: Customer service is self-explanatory, and good service is something most know when they see it and experience it. The key to achieving great service is having a team trained to put themselves in the mind of the customer and anticipate what they would expect and then exceed that expectation.
MW: You’ve got the power to change one thing in golf — what would it be?
CS: My swing.
MW: What steps are you doing at the facilities you own in promoting golf for women, minorities and Millennials?
CS: At Forsgate we’re proud to have a woman as our Director of Golf, and at both facilities we encourage participation by offering educational ladies clinics, hosting “Women’s Wednesdays,” and hosting events throughout the golf season.
We have successfully engaged Millenials by implementing an aggressive digital marketing platform and by developing creative events that cater to that demographic.
We support the growth and reach of the game through the charitable events hosted by the Forsgate Foundation and the RDC Charity Foundation. Over the years, our beneficiaries have included First Tee chapters in New Jersey, the New Jersey Golf Foundation and the Annika Foundation.
MW: The best advice you ever received was what and who was it from?
CS: “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Mentor and family friend provided that when I was a young adult.
MW: You have a mulligan for anything you’ve done in the golf industry — what would the circumstances be?
CS: Mulligans are about regret — and regret is usually a waste of time.”
MW: You wake up in the morning – what drives you each and everyday?
CS: I am inspired by the opportunity to — individually or with a team — develop good ideas and see them work!