By LIZ BUTTON
As the Rye Golf Club’s new permanent general manager, Jim Buonaiuto told the Rye City Review that he hopes to use his strong background in golf club operations and commitment to hospitality to burnish the club’s reputation and turn its fortunes around following the years-long financial scheme allegedly masterminded by the club’s previous manager, Scott Yandrasevich.
The 27-year-old Buonaiuto brings 10 years of golf club experience to the table, coming to Rye from his position as general manager of The Courses at Pelham Bay and Split Rock in the Bronx, a 36-hole spread which holds the title of biggest golf course in New York City.
Buonaiuto is expected to join Rye Golf Club on April 14.
Being young, Buonaiuto said, is not an issue when it comes to his potential for success in the city-run club’s top position. For him, this April would have been a decade of employment with American Golf Corp., a national golf club franchise that has placed him at different golf courses in various managerial positions since 2008, when he graduated from St. John’s University in Queens.
“There are a couple of things I want to make it my priority to accomplish in the first 100 days,” he said.
Buonaiuto, who lives in Tuckahoe, said he plans on making himself a visible presence to the staff and club members, and starting the club on the path toward more transparent financial management in order to shuck off the legacy of member mistrust the former manager left behind. He said he will make it his standard practice to personally provide more frequent and detailed updates on financial and operational matters to club members at Rye Golf Club Commission meetings, and to mandate that the commission present such information to the general public at City Council meetings, Buonaiuto said.
In his capacity as manager, Yandrasevich was not regarded as a people person by many golf club members and staff. According to sources within the club, he was known to sometimes sequester himself in his office for long periods of time to the point of inaccessibility.
Rye’s new manager said that this mode of interaction runs completely counter to his managerial philosophy of hospitality above all.
“I really enjoy making sure members enjoy their day,” he said.
And, at the end of the day, while profitability and cash flow are paramount, the club won’t take in the desired revenue without providing an exceptional member experience, Buonaiuto said.
After a lengthy search process, the city announced the hiring of Buonaiuto on March 20 to replace Yandrasevich, who is currently facing charges of defrauding members of hundreds of thousands of dollars in membership dues. Yandrasevich, who resigned in January 2013, deflated the club’s reputation by allegedly using shell companies he created to steal years’ worth of membership dues. The city has since submitted a claim to its insurance carrier for $2.1 million in the hopes of recovering losses city officials believe rightfully owed to the golf club as a result of the scandal.
Buonaiuto told the Review he is up to the task before him.
Golf commission chairman Mack Cunningham, said that during his interview, Buonaiuto answered some very pointed questions relative to Yandrasevich’s notorious history with the club. He is well aware of the gravity of the task he faces and the hopes and expectations of the members, Cunningham said.
“To him this is a career opportunity. He wants to build the membership back up and turn the club back into what he really believes is a crown jewel that just needs some polishing,” Cunningham, a former city councilman, said. “I think the golf club is looking for someone new with creativity and who has fresh eyes.”
Buonaiuto is also confident he can help restore the club’s financial fortunes.
In his previous positions, Buonaiuto has managed clubs with a much larger budget than Rye’s, which currently sits at $5.5 million. As general manager of the Bronx’s Pelham Bay and Split Rock club, he supervised 100 employees on a daily basis and helped increase revenue in non-traditional ways, like by developing a popular Oktoberfest celebration and redeveloping the club’s operational plan for its traditional spring and summer club nights, which attract 700 to 1500 guests weekly.
When he is not managing golf courses, he is playing on them; he is an avid golfer and bowls with St. John’s University competitive teams, he said.
To start his tenure off right, Buonaiuto said he has begun networking within the area and will work with the Westchester Business Council in addition to local chambers of commerce, rotary clubs, lions clubs, or anywhere local leaders of business congregate.
When it comes to other new business strategies to supplement membership, Buonaiuto said that the best way to boost membership is retention: the club has to first and foremost provide an excellent member experience.
“That, in turn, will result in members bringing guests or speaking highly of the club within their social or business area of life, which is the best way to advertise,” he said.
Prior to interviewing with Rye, Buonaiuto played a round of golf at the city club and absolutely loved the property, calling it “one of the most unique facilities in Westchester,” due to its incredible beauty and oceanside status.
Buonaiuto’s new position will pay $120,000 including benefits and health insurance.