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Partners for the Course

Native son Mike Trout and golf legend Tiger Woods team up to bring a world-class golf club to our backyard.

John Ruga, left, and Mike Trout take first shot on the site of the proposed golf course.
by Mickey Brandt

The spotlight is on our community as it hasn’t been in a very long time. Two weeks ago, Vineland and Cumberland County made headlines across all media formats—traditional as well as social media—and was discussed in homes and gathering places nationwide. It came with the announcement of Trout National – The Reserve professional golf course, designed by Tiger Woods teamed with our own Mike Trout, to be built in our community on South Lincoln Avenue near Route 55 in Vineland.

The news was on the front page of sports sections everywhere, at the top of the results in online publications, and prominent on every media platform. The announcement was covered on Sports Illustrated (SI) by elite sportswriter and broadcaster Tom Verducci. Also, ESPN, Forbes, Golf Digest, and hundreds of lesser websites posted accounts. There was regional news for days on the local involvement of Vineland in this monumental endeavor.

“This is incredible news for the city,” said Vineland Mayor Anthony Fanucci in a statement. “You won’t find two bigger names in the world of sports than Mike Trout and Tiger Woods, and John Ruga and his wife Lorie have already proven themselves to be very successful business owners. To have them partner for a project of this magnitude in Vineland can truly be a game changer. It’s wonderful to see Mike and his wife Jessica stay so committed to their roots in South Jersey.”

The Rugas are owners of Northeast Precast and the project is going up adjacent to their company.

“Mike’s a great guy and we both care deeply about our community,” said John Ruga in a press release. “Like Mike, I have always dreamed of opening a truly unique club. When we met and started talking about our individual visions, it became clear that we were on the same page. Equally important, we focus on making the club a catalyst for job creation and economic development in our region, while also exploring ways non-members can enjoy it.”

Hopes and dreams for the completion of Trout National (projected for 2025) and its long-term success as a state-of-the-art showcase run deep in the area.

“Besides the direct benefit of new ratables and jobs, when you can attract people from outside the community to spend money in your community, it is a win for everyone,” said Sandy Forosisky, Vineland’s director of Economic and Community Development. “The visitors will spend money on hotels, restaurants and retail shopping. That has a multiplier effect because it creates more jobs and possible expansion of more hotels, restaurants and retail shopping, creating even more ratables.”

She added, “Having Vineland’s name associated with a national, first-class golf course doesn’t hurt either.”

“Mike is a superstar,” commented Marianne Lods, executive director of the Millville Development Commission. “He’s good both for baseball and for our area.”

Lods noted that sometimes Millville doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but the new course, which is on her city’s border, will have a broad impact on that mindset.

Bruce Harris, 28, whom we interviewed along with other golfers at Wheat Road Golf and Uncle Ricky’s Outdoor Bar and Grill in Vineland, said “When they released the news, I knew it would be a reality; it will bring a lot of golfers into Vineland—bigger names, good for golf and good for us.” He lives near the proposed course.

Russell Swanson, executive director of Main Street Vineland thinks the project will bring a lot of benefits.

“I don’t see how economic development can be bad,” he noted.

Swanson said the course will bring many new people to the area and he hopes they will take the time to discover what Vineland, Millville, and Cumberland County have to offer.

“Some of the big-time courses are a hundred years old or more,” said golfer Kevin Homan, 30, of Vineland. “If this is ongoing, it could reflect well on the town for generations.”

Mike Trout’s vision for the golf course complex began during his trips to the driving range with his father Jeff while Mike was in high school. He now carries a seven or eight handicap and averages 330 to 360 yards on his drives.

About the project, he told Verducci in SI, “It’s just like anything else I do. I want to be the best whatever it takes. If it means going to the ranges or looking at video, I will…. Baseball is always my number one, but I enjoy golf as a great mental getaway from the game.”

Our area has reflected Trout’s major league limelight for more than a decade. Adopting Tiger Woods as part of the mix now makes us feel downright glamorous.

The two superstars had never met or spoken until the golf course was first discussed.

“My favorite golfer growing up was obviously Tiger,” Trout told SI. “Once his [design] team came down to the site, they loved it. It’s surreal. I mean it’s friggin’ Tiger.”

Woods, in a release, expressed the same camaraderie.

“I’ve always watched Mike on the diamond so when an opportunity arose to work with him…I couldn’t pass it up,” he said. “It’s a great site for golf and our team’s looking forward to creating a special course for Mike and Jessica and John and Lorie [Ruga].”

As a tribute, the course will include a par three signature hole named “Mike’s Choice.” It will include an island hole (on a re-designed existing small lake) and feature alternative tee boxes for different approaches to the green, according to several sources.

During the excitement, there has been the predictable negativity surrounding Trout National.

Some of it is muted and mixed with enthusiasm, some isn’t.

It’s understandable that, with an announcement of this proportion, there are unanswered questions, broad social media criticisms, and widespread rumors. But to this reporter those things seem, at best, premature and, at worst, reckless and insensitive.

A spokesperson for Ruga, however, stated that all the questions would be addressed in good time as the project develops.

Trout National will be private and will attract wealthy golfers as members. Most of the discussion of the pros and cons centers on community participation.

“Obviously, some people from Vineland may not be positioned to join, but there will be wealthy people coming here and that’s a good thing,” said Homan. He suggested the club let the public participate in some fashion, maybe including them in community days like charity fundraising events.

“I could be a ball boy,” he quipped.

“Usually, these courses are pretty good,” said Ed DeLeon, 72, from Vineland, as he filled his bucket with driving range balls. “The visitors will be good for the economy but it’s much too early to know what will be in the future. Let’s wait and see.”

His wife and golfing partner Betty simply said, “I hope for good from it.”

So, the three-time American League Most Valuable Player and the 15-time golf major winner have joined the same team to carve out a world-class golf course from former sand mines, farms, and forests deep in southern New Jersey. Anyone who knows Mike Trout knows why.

“I’m excited to be doing this in Millville. I met my wife Jessica in Millville and my parents, siblings, and in-laws still live in the area,” Trout said. “I could put down roots anywhere in the country, but Jessica and I make South Jersey our off-season home and always cherish the time we get to spend there.”

Golfer John Webb, 74, of Pittsgrove said of Trout, “His roots are here, his home is here, I wish him the best and hope he’s successful. “The only thing he needs to do is get a Phillies jersey.”

 

The Course

According to a media release, Tiger Woods’ architecture firm, TGR Design, will bring a unique championship golf course experience to southern New Jersey with Trout National – The Reserve.

Set among gentle rolling hills, the course will seamlessly weave between two distinct settings that include a former quarry and rambling farmland. The sandy site was once home to a silica sand mine that will be evident throughout the round with ample playable sandy waste areas strategically found throughout the routing, giving it a distinct character.

The unique nature of the course will promote creative shot making and optionality, qualities that will be underscored with a striking par three match hole inspired by the club co-founder and MLB All-Star, Mike Trout, featuring multiple tee and greens options.

Accompanying the 18-hole championship golf course, the golf offerings at Trout National – The Reserve will also include a flexible short course and expansive putting course along with world-class practice facilities and performance center. Other club highlights include a modern state-of-the-art clubhouse, five-star lodging, innovative amenities, a wedding chapel, and more.

Among courses TGR Design has open for play are Bluejack National in the Houston area, El Cardonal at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and Payne’s Valley in Missouri.