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Apr. 10—Mark Aulerich is the man leading Johnstown's premier golf destination into the future.
Aulerich, of Seattle, is Sunnehanna Country Club's new general manager. He brings the club more than 20 years of experience in hospitality and golf-club management.
"Opportunities for growth at Sunnehanna that I look for will embrace the club's history, but take it into the future," he said.
Many of golf's greatest players have walked the greens and dined in the clubhouse, which was built during Johnstown's industrial boom in the 1920s.
Under Aulerich's management, the club could see themes that reflect steel's heyday, long before the 1977 flood hurt local industry and aided the cause of the city's population to decline.
To expand membership to the club, Aulerich and the Sunnehanna board plans to build lodging for extended stays for members from out of town.
Club President Scott Becker said lodging could be built in the next year or two.
"When people come to this part of the world, Sunnehanna is always on their 'want to play' list," Becker said. "Not only do we have the Sunnehanna Amateur in June, where we bring in 70 or more of the top 100 amateurs in the world, but we also have a senior amateur, and typically every year one of them says, 'I am going to join here as a national member.'
"So that is definitely an area of growth and its good for the Johnstown community. Anytime we can bring more people into the community, it's a win for everybody."
'History that's here'Aulerich was most recently general manager of Alta Mesa Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona.
He has also held senior management positions with Hamilton Farm Golf Club in New Jersey, The Ace Club in southeast Pennsylvania, the Prairie Club in Nebraska, Shooting Star Jackson Hole in Wyoming, the Classic Club in California, as well as Glenwild Golf Club and Spa in Utah and Chaparral Pines Golf Club in Arizona.
In many of those previous jobs, he helped build clubs from the ground up. Launching start-ups has been the reason for many of his moves, he said.
"People ask me why I'm moving to Johnstown," Aiulerich said. "I'm originally from Seattle, so I love the change of seasons. Arizona provides hot and hotter, and that's about it. It's beautiful down there, but I enjoy and embrace the seasons, and the history that's here at Sunnehanna."
In the four weeks Aulerich has been on the job, he's already developed ways to maximize the club's grounds to increase membership and revenue.
His plans include softscaping between the clubhouse and pool to create space that could be used for weddings, family barbecues and retro games, including lawn bowling and croquet.
But Aulerich is against changing the iconic clubhouse, designed by local architect Henry M. Rogers and opened in 1923.
In his first week on the job, Aulerich steered the club away from making additions to the dining room. He wanted to preserve the club's view of the golf course, designed by one of America's foremost architects, A.W. Tillinghast, who is now in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
"The views from the building are essential to our opportunity to grow this business," Aulerich said. "And the views from the outside looking at the clubhouse, I said, 'Why do we want to tack on another element to this building? If you do what you are planning on doing, you will ruin both of those things.' "
'Connect the dots'
As the club looks for growth and new members, Aulerich said Sunnehanna must also become a career builder for employees.
Aulerich said the club is hiring for positions including wait staff.
"These may not be career positions, but a learning experience," Aulerich said. "Our expectation is that they come in here and do a great job to help further expansion of the club's services. In return, we ask what can we do to become a catapult to help them later on in life?"
At a previous club he managed, he spoke with a locker room attendant who was a summer employee, learned about his interests and connected him with prominent members in the career field that interested him.
"I said, 'Tell me what your goals are in life. Obviously you don't want to shine shoes for the rest of your life,' " Aulerich mentioned. "He said he was interested in neurosurgery, and I said, 'Well one of our members is a top person in the world for that type of work.' "
Aulerich said he went upstairs to the club's fitness room and asked the prominent medical professional and five of his colleagues to speak with the young man.
"He said, 'Guys, we gotta go down and talk to this kid,' " Aulerich said. "These were some of the top people in the world, on the floor above our locker room attendant. ... So a club allows us to understand who's sitting in here and who's working back there and how we can connect the dots."
Aulerich's personality and experience set him apart from the pool of about 50 candidates for the general manager post, Becker said.
"He's personable, easygoing and easy to talk to," Becker said. "Those will all be incredible skills for a general manager of Sunnehanna."
Aulerich has been a member of the Professional Golfers Association since 1994 and held positions as a golf professional prior to breaking into the club management side of the business.
"The fact he has such a deep knowledge of golf was a big plus, in addition to his experience with clubs across the country," Becker said.
After a decade of seeing the club's general managers change every two or three years, Becker said he believes Aulerich can bring stability.
"We believe we have someone here who's going to be with us for the long term," he said.
The board's selection of Aulerich ended a search that began in December.
"We are so pleased," Becker said. "We did a national search; we had incredible candidates, and Mark is going to be an outstanding contributor for Sunnehanna. He and his family will be moving and will be an outstanding part of this whole Johnstown community."
Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.