There may be snow on the ground, but it’s March, and that means golf season can’t be more than a 9-iron away.
The folks at Four Oaks Country Club, 80 Meadow Creek Drive in Dracut, are hoping spring starts a little early this year, as it has in recent years.
“The last couple of years, we’ve been able to open the course in the middle of March, so we’re hoping for that again this year,” says Mike Kuenzler, who, with his wife, Cindy, owns Four Oaks Country Club and its neighbor, Grazie Italian Restaurant.
Four Oaks/Grazie is Dracut Economic Development’s Business of the Month for March, which is par for the course, because it’s just in time for local duffers to dust off their clubs and follow through on their resolution to wedge more golf into their schedules this year.
The 18-hole Four Oaks opened in 2007, and Mark and Cindy bought it out of bankruptcy in 2012, taking full ownership fore … oops, four years later. Though they were green when it came to running a golf course, in the time they’ve owned the club and restaurant, the Kuenzlers have invested a lot of money, and they remain committed to maintaining what many in Dracut believe to be the best development the town has seen in several decades.
The Kuenzlers have shown a lot of drive, expanding and upgrading all the event and banquet rooms, and making significant upgrades to the course itself. In 2020, they closed The Oaks Bar & Grill and turned it into more event space, enhancing Four Oaks’ reputation as one of the premier event spaces in the Merrimack Valley. They then focused on Grazie, adding a lunch menu to make up for the loss of The Oaks.
Where now stands a patio for outdoor dining, with breathtaking views, once stood the pro shop, a design that had the Kuenzlers scratching their heads. Seeing that setup as a handicap, they took a mulligan, moving the pro shop and providing a fair way to take in those vistas.
“We could never understand why they put the pro shop on the most scenic part of the property, with views all the way to Boston,” Mike says. “So we moved the pro shop to the barn. We look at that as possibly the best move we’ve made. It allowed up to establish outside dining, and we were able to expand Grazie.”
They also added a waterfall and fire pit and expanded the event patio area, adding awnings and umbrellas.
Cindy designed the interior of the restaurant and bar, and their plans to expand the banquet areas were in full swing, with the idea of turning part of The Oaks into a bourbon bar. Until you-know-what happened, leaving them with a bad lie and taking a slice out of their revenue.
“Then came the virus,” Mike says. “We lost, I’d say, 90 percent of event revenue the first year of COVID with probably a 60 percent impact on the restaurant.”
“It caused is to re-evaluate,” Cindy says.
That’s when the Kuenzlers decided to scratch the pub all together and pin their hopes on expanding the event space, with hopes that when the pandemic lifts, the larger spaces will be a hole-in-one for guests.
And with The Oaks closed, Grazie expanded its hours to include lunch.
“Lunch has never been busier,” Mike says. “It has had such a positive impact on the restaurant. With Grazie serving lunch, we’ve been probably twice as busy as we’ve ever been for lunch. And people love eating outside when the weather’s nice. You can sit and enjoy lunch while watching the golfers putting out on the 18th hole and folks teeing off on the first hole. It’s perfect for golfers to enjoy lunch after a round.”
The Kuenzlers deflect a lot of praise for the popularity of Four Oaks and Grazie to their staff. As Mike says, “You’re only as good as your employees.”
“We have an incredible staff of managers who help us run Four Oaks,” Cindy adds.
They heap accolades on head pro Tony Martinho, assistant pro/office manager Mary Wilkinson, event chef James Holloway, restaurant managers Sally Geary-Carney and Courtney Levesque, director of events Kendra Jussaume, event coordinator Nicole L’Heureux, grounds superintendent Christian Kaszuba, and of course, Arben “Beni” Kurti chef, Grazie’s head chef since 2013.
The Kuenzlers recruited Beni from Umbria, Italy, and brought his entire family to the United States.
“He’s done an incredible job,” Mike says.
The Kuenzlers also own All Sports Promotions and Heroes Uniform & Supply Company in Lowell. They live in Dracut with their three kids. Mike is a former Lowell police officer who helped to develop the Lowell DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. The couple are well-known for their philanthropy and service to the community.
“The Town of Dracut has always had open arms toward Four Oaks,” Mike says. “It’s such a help to be in a community where you get that kind of support. We’ve invested a lot, and we’ve gotten a ton of feedback. We have people drive up here just to admire the property and the view.”
While the pandemic put both sides of the operation in the rough, the Kuenzlers know they’re not alone in having to scramble to stay out of the hazard.
“I can’t say it hasn’t been an incredible struggle,” Mike says. “And like everybody else, the worker shortage has hurt us. We’ve had to close Grazie on Sunday and Monday. We’re going to reopen it on Sundays for the upcoming season, but it will remain closed on Mondays. The golf course will still be open on Mondays, and we’ll still do charity tournaments and events on Monday.”
And, of course, golf is what brings many up the Meadow Creek Drive hill to the top of Dracut -- even more so in the last two years.
While Four Oaks is a public course, it does accept members, and there are memberships available. The club offers club rental and repair, online posting, locker rooms and lessons.
“If anything positive came out of COVID, it increased the popularity of golf because it’s outside recreation,” Mike says.
As for those golf clubs, have them at the ready. Four Oaks Country Club will open as soon the weather allows.
“We’re ready when Mother Nature’s ready,” Mike says.
For more information on Four Oaks Country Club and Grazie Italian Restaurant, check out the following links: www.fouroakscountryclub.com and www.grazie.restaurant.
By Dan Phelps, Dracut Economic Development