Since 1977, Cool Springs, located at the intersection of Hamilton and Baptist roads in Bethel Park, was the place to be on a steamy Saturday night. This July 26 was no exception as the driving range and 18-hole miniature golf celebrated its grand reopening since the completion of the complex’s first phase of renovations.
“What draws people initially is that this place is an institution,” said Cool Springs general manager Justin Kaylor of Upper St. Clair. “People have been coming here for years. It used to be a place to take your date.”
In fact, Kaylor, cited a phone call he recently received from a couple intent on returning for a 25th wedding anniversary celebration. “They had their first date here. A blind date,” emphasized Kaylor. “They were so glad to know it’s open.”
Cool Springs, which also boasts a 50-bay, two-tier outdoor turf driving range with targets, is open from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday during the summer. The Fairway Grille Bar Service opens at 11 a.m. daily.
“Cool Springs is the best driving range around,” said Kaylor, who describes himself as a grip-it-and-rip-it golfer. “They have the best here.”
Jeff Ellis certainly is one of the best teaching pros in the area. The lead instructor and director of technology has been at Cool Springs for nine months now since leaving the South Hills Country Club, where he served as head pro for five of his eight seasons of employment.
For Ellis, Cool Springs is a beginning and an ending. His first job was at the driving range. Dressed in a 30-pound cage ensemble, he picked up golf balls. “I got hit seven to eight times a night,” Ellis said. “Cool Springs is a great place. I hope I can stay here until it is time for me to call it quits.
“It’s a special place,” he continued. “People have a lot of memories here and what attracts them is the curiosity. They’re comparing the old to the new. People who haven’t golfed in a while even want to see what’s going on.”
For starters, Cool Springs has kept up with technology. In addition to WiFi and the ability to trace balls, Cool Springs features indoor simulators. According to Ellis, they can be used for entertainment, to fit a player for clubs or to grow the game of golf.
When Brian Shanahan and Penn Cove Group Capital LLC out of Cecil purchased the $19 million complex in October of 2013, the managing partner’s objective was to grow the game of golf and much, much more. In addition to the 40 acres, Penn Cove acquired 15 more acres from Bethel Park and Shanahan’s vision for a ‘sports destination mecca’ took root.
While Phase I, featuring the miniature golf, driving range and grille, is completed, Phase II will be finished either in the spring or fall of 2015. The second part of the renovation includes construction of a 172,000-square-foot indoor sports facility. In addition to housing a FIFA regulation-size soccer field that can be used for lacrosse, football and baseball, too, the building will also contain six volleyball courts, three basketball courts and a fitness gym. Thanks to help from the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, an enclosed dek hockey structure will also be featured as well as outdoor sports fields and a walking trail.
“We’re turning 55 acres of land into something that’s never been seen before. There’s going to be nothing like this around here,” said Shanahan.
According to Shanahan, there are two anchors to the complex. With Phase I being completed, he claims, Cool Springs has ‘the longest putt-putt on seven acres this side of the Mississippi.’ When Phase II is finished, he added, “we will have a championship facility that looks like and feels like a country club with all the amenities but is accessible to everybody and is family-friendly.”
Since he grew up in the region – he was a standout football player at Upper St. Clair High School – Shanahn saw a particular need for a sports complex such like Cool Springs. He noted that with the exception of those living in Green Tree, ‘all residents of the South Hills had to cross the river to find good golf.
“I saw a great need for something like this and even though it is here
Shanahan also indicated that there is a component for the elite athlete, the high school player and the weekend warrior.
In fact, the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) fits nicely into that equation. The sports complex will include the medical organization’s orthopedic services.
“What we might see are the golfers’ elbows,” said Dr. Robert Schilken. “We usually get them feeling better and back out there. It will be fabulous to be here for rehab, practice and training.”
Shanahan hopes to eventually have Olympians train at Cool Springs. At a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony, Shanahan welcomed physicians from the AHN that have affiliation with TEAM USA athletes. Dr. Bill Moreau is the managing director of sports medicine for the U.S. Olympic Committee. According to Dr. Patrick DeMeo, the chairman of Allegheny Health’s Orthopedic Institute and director of the network’s Sports Medicine Division, Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls would receive sports medicine and sports performance services at the complex.
“We’re really excited about the potential partnership,” Moreau said. “We expect that this will be a special place that we will utilize to help Team USA.”
For years, Cool Springs has been a special place because it has catered to golf enthusiasts and families alike, Shanahan noted. “We’re pleased to build upon that tradition wile better serving our community with a complex that will feature amenities and technologies to challenge athletes of all abilities,” he said.
For Shanahan it was a challenge to watch Cool Springs disintegrate. Over the years, he watched as one of his favorite youthful destinations go down hill. “I was shaking my head,” he said.
So Shanahan, who is also CEO of CardConnect, decided to do something about Cool Springs’ sad situation, which included a closure for financial reasons in the spring of 2013 and a garage fire at the close of last season. He and his financial partners purchased the center last fall.
“What I saw of Cool Springs was that it was pretty nice, but not real great. I wanted to make it better. I wanted to do things first class. I wanted to do it big. When people see it now, they can be proud of it and know that there is no other [facility] around here like this.”
For future generations, there is no better place to start building cherished recollections.
“For a lot of people, there are a lot of memories here,” said Ellis. “Brian knew that but he wanted to make it better.
“We wanted to keep it special for kids and families. This place will do that but it will also attract the elite of golf in the area if not the Tri-state region.”