Rainbow Golf: New owner looks to the future, and the past

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

The Rainbow Golf Club has a new owner who is renovating the business. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

GREENVILLE — A golf course that has been in Greenville for generations has a new owner who is looking to honor the business’s legacy with an eye to the future.

Hugo Li first learned of Rainbow Golf Club Inn & Suites in 2020 and sealed the deal in November 2021. Since then, he has been planning and renovating the resort and expects to be open for golfers in April.

“We will be open for golf 100% by the beginning of April, depending on the weather,” Li said.

Renovations on the inn’s rooms is just about complete and work is ongoing at the clubhouse and expected to be finished by late April or early May, Li said. He is renaming the inn Birmann Lodge in honor of the previous owner who owned the property for many years.

Plans are also in the works for some improvements to the golf course itself, but most of the work will be done to the business’s other amenities.

“We are going to get rid of all the dead trees, redo the pathway and do some cleaning work on the golf course, but most of it will be as is,” he noted.

Li has looked to local suppliers and workers for the renovation project, he said.

“We really want to support local business, so we hired mostly all local people and they have been really talented, good workers,” Li said.

Workers renovating the clubhouse at Rainbow Golf Club. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Once completed, the clubhouse will provide a space that can be rented out by club members, visitors and the public. The golf course is public and open to anyone, with or without a membership.

“We are renovating the clubhouse as a private space so people in the future can reserve that space for birthday parties, small weddings or graduation celebrations,” Li said. “They can put 30 to 40 people in that space. We are also adding a little gym underneath the clubhouse — it’s not going to be a fancy gym, but it will be functional. It will have most of the equipment you could ask for, and it will be open for both members and for the public.”

Another amenity that will be renovated is the tennis court.

“The tennis court hasn’t really been used for over four or five years, but we want to renovate that tennis court and bring it back to life,” Li said. “We are also adding mini golf for kids or anyone who just wants to chill. Along with mini golf, we want to put some tables and chairs where people can sit and have coffee or a drink while watching their kids play mini golf.”

One of the biggest new additions to Rainbow will be glamping facilities.

Glamping — a combination of the words “glamorous” and “camping” — offers a camping experience with services and amenities not usually associated with camping, and is gaining in popularity.

“We want to put some glamping concepts around the golf course,” Li said. “For example, at the old driving range, a part of that will be used to create an event space with a campfire and tents where people can go and just enjoy the summer. We also want to do summer activities — we bought an outdoor movie screen that would be open to the public. We might have movie nights once or twice a week that would be free to the public as well.”

The golf course at the Rainbow Golf Club in Greenville. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

The goal is to begin offering glamping in the middle of May, but Li is still working on the permitting and licensing process, he said. Four glamping sites would be opened this year, with as many as 10 to 15 added in future years.

“We want to build tiny A-frame houses that would not have a kitchen or bathroom — it’s only for daily activities so people could rent that space for a day to do meditation, read or just enjoy time with friends or by themselves in nature,” Li said.

He is looking to utilize more of the property beyond the golf course.

“It’s a huge property — we have 144 acres and we are just using the golf in the middle,” Li said. “There is still a big chunk of land around the golf course that is not being used.”

Li, who works in commercial real estate, is originally from China and moved to New York City after living in Atlanta for a while. He was drawn to Greenville during the pandemic and the associated shutdowns.

“During the pandemic I was sick of the city — just locked in my small apartment, and I couldn’t go out or see my friends. The only thing I could do was go out on my balcony and look across the Hudson River — that was all I could do,” he said.

The views of nature inspired him to look beyond the city’s offerings.

“I looked at a couple of sites for getaways and glamping, and it was all fully booked for the next four or five months. I said, ‘This is hot’ — I truly believe in this trend, glamping, and I don’t think it is a one- or two-year trend. I think it is really a new fashion,” Li said. “I wanted to find a place to do this myself.”

Greenville offered the best of all worlds.

“I finally found Greene County and it was the perfect location,” Li said. “It is two hours from New York City and three hours from Boston, which is perfect… People feel like it is a road trip and they want to stay, but it’s not too much, like a four-hour trip.”

Working with investors, Li’s company, Terracotta Management, purchased the Rainbow property and found an unexpected amenity he didn’t even know was there — an air strip capable of landing small airplanes.

“I didn’t know there was an air strip until I had made the decision to buy the property,” he said. “I didn’t know it existed, but it’s a bonus. You can land small planes, a helicopter, as long as you are registered with the FAA. According to the seller, some people would land their plane, come out and play golf, and then fly away. We haven’t really thought about how to use that air strip, but it is definitely something interesting and we want to keep it.”

One of the renovated rooms at the Rainbow Golf Club. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

This is not Li’s first major project — he renovated a similar, but smaller, resort in Saipan, a U.S. territory near Guam — but Rainbow is his largest project to date.

“We want to add modern features into this classic property and bring some fresh air to the business,” Li said. “We want to be a part of the community and be really close to all of our neighbors and other business owners in the community. Our first priority is to work with people locally. We want to give back to the community because without the community, this place would not exist.”

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