THE NEW CO-OWNERS—Robert Rankin, Andi Irwin, Jamy Rankin and Steve Irwin celebrate the grand opening of River Forest Country Club becoming a public facility. (Photo by Tom Kurlander)
by CHRISTIAN MORROW, Courier Staff Writer
In 1986 while still an executive with Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Jamy Rankin was attending a function at her boss’ house when she walked into the backyard and saw his son hitting golf balls. He asked her if she wanted to try it—and she’s been trying it, avidly, ever since.
Earlier this year, her golfing buddies, Steve and Andi Irwin, asked her to give them input on making some changes at River Forest Country Club in Freeport, of which Steve Irwin had partial ownership. Rankin came home thinking of a big change—partnering with Steve Irwin, Andi Irwin, and Rankin’s husband, Robert, on complete ownership of River Forest.
“So I had to spring it on my husband. I said, ‘Honey, what do you think about buying a golf course?’” she told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview. “So the next day, he came up and saw what I saw.”
What Robert Rankin, a Pittsburgh firefighter, saw was a 450-acre property with an 18-hole, par 72 championship course, a clubhouse and pro shop, locker rooms, a restaurant and banquet facility that can accommodate 175 people for holiday parties, weddings or meetings. And after a few months of due diligence, attorneys, and submitting a business plan to the bank, the Rankins and Irwins joined together and formed a new LLC, River Forest Enterprises. Robert Rankin is now the CFO, Steve Irwin, an attorney, is legal counsel, and Jamy Rankin is the general manager. They celebrated the new company in the club’s redesigned, and renamed, Lily’s restaurant, April 2.
“So, yeah, I’m not retired anymore,” joked Jamy Rankin. “I’m here running the place every day. So I don’t really get to play that much anymore—but that won’t last forever.”
Jamy Rankin said the club has about 400 dues-paying members but is also open to the public for play. Non-members pay $45 for a round, including a cart, during the week and $55 on weekends. There are also three membership levels:
•Par membership—for $150 a year, members get 10 percent off food, 20 percent off apparel and reduced greens fees.
•Twilight membership—for $900 a year, members get free golf after 4 p.m. during the week, but still pay for cart, plus the same reductions on food and apparel.
•Eagle membership—for $2,300 a year, unlimited free golf, reciprocal membership to the HYP Club in Pittsburgh and invitations to special members-only events.
Has Black ownership brought out more Black golfers? So far, yes, said Jamy Rankin.
“We’ve seen an increase in Black players, and the Duffers league has been here and will be back,” she said. “So while we are targeting African American golfers, we’re targeting all golfers. We’d like more members, naturally.”
But they are doing more than just golf. They are creating an entertainment venue as well, with live Jazz, Reggae Nights, and Comedy Nights. Jamy Rankin said they will also be having drone races on the course.
And, if that weren’t enough, they will be the first East Coast club to offer WhingGolf. Instead of carrying a set of 14 clubs, players just need a ball, a putter and a Whinger—a stick that’s somewhere between a jai-alai cesta and an atlatl—that lets players throw, or “whing” the ball down the fairway. Jamy Rankin said it’s golf for people who’ve never played golf. It’s all part of the fun she’s having.
“I’m really enjoying this—it gets all my passions,” she said. “It doesn’t even feel like work. We have great staff, a beautiful course, nice facilities and our customers have been super nice, also. What’s not to like?”