How friends came together to revamp River Forest Country Club |
Valley News Dispatch

How friends came together to revamp River Forest Country Club

Chuck Biedka
Chuck Biedka | Tribune-Review
River Forest Country Club’s management team of Andi Irwin (left) and Jamy Rankin.
Chuck Biedka | Tribune-Review
Partners (from left) Robert Rankin, Andi and Steve Irwin and Jamy Rankin own and manage River Forest Country Club, which held a re-opening celebration Tuesday. The course and all facilities are open to the public as well as members.

A little more than a year ago, now-retired professional golfer Missie Berteotti knew two of her friends “just had to meet.”

That meeting eventually led to a revitalized 450-acre River Forest Country Club.

Andi Irwin and her husband, Steve, owned half of the country club in Allegheny Township when they told Berteotti they were looking for new partners to buy the other half from brothers R. Gary Duster and J. Rodney Duster, owners of Duster Funeral Home in Tarentum.

Berteotti told Andi Irwin that she should meet Jamy Rankin, a retired Ford Motor Co. executive from the Stanton Heights section of Pittsburgh.

“She loves golf,” said Berteotti , who won an LPGA championship in 1993 and played for 14 years on the tour. The women talked, then Jamy went home to talk with her husband, Robert, who is a Pittsburgh firefighter — and not a golfer.

“I said, ‘Honey, this is my project. It’s just beautiful there along the Allegheny River,’ ” she said Tuesday. The day after the couple talked, they went to the course and decided to buy the shares owned by the Duster brothers.

Tuesday was the grand reopening for the revitalized 18-hole, par 72 course. It also was the debut of Lily’s, a restaurant that features lunch and dinner menus.

In addition to golf enthusiasts, the club wants to reach out to people who’ve never played the game. Whing golf, drone racing, a speakers series, live music and stand-up comedy all will be added to the club’s offerings.

Whing golf is played on a regular course using a thrower and a putter.

“We tested it on people ages 12 to 75 and 60 pounds to 350 pounds. Everyone could do it, even if they couldn’t golf,” said Steve Irwin, who demonstrated it Tuesday after Jamy Rankin drove the first ball off the tee at the club’s ribbon-cutting.

Andi Irwin and Jamy Rankin are the face of the partnership that seems poised at the confluence of new and old golf ideas just as River Forest is at the convergence of four counties.

Jamy is the general manager who handles the day-by-day business and husband Robert is the chief financial officer.

Partners Andi and Steve Irwin remain active.

The rebranded and renamed Lily’s restaurant is open seven days a week and includes a bar.

Lily’s is available for private parties, dining for holidays and special events. The club’s banquet facility is available for wedding receptions and other events and can accommodate up to 175 guests for a seated dinner.

Produce will come from local farmers and vendors. Steve Irwin, an attorney, is on the board of Sustainable Pittsburgh.

“We’re a country club for the 21st century,” said Andi Irwin.

Rankin and Irwin believe their course is likely the only majority woman-owned golf club in the state and one of 10 with African American ownership in the United States.

Jeff Morgan, chief executive for the Club Management Association of America, which represents country clubs and other groups, said only about 20 percent of country club managers across the country are women, although that continues to grow.

“Things seem to be shifting among people under age 40. Most of them are women,” he said.

He said the addition of non-golf activities is a sign of country clubs that want to survive.

“There is a major shift. Thirty-years ago, the country club was a place for men to get away from their families and play golf. Today, the emphasis is on families,” he said.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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