Sunday, December 28, 2014


USA shows UK golf clubs the way forward:

 extra amenities all the family can enjoy

By Josh Sens, Golfweek contributor
At 50, Ray Landes qualifies as middle-aged, but he counts himself as part of golf’s younger generation, a fresh-faced breed not fully sold on the hidebound private hangouts of yesteryear.
The senior vice president of finance for HBO, and a resident of Manhattan Beach, near Los Angeles, Landes has made the rounds at Southern California’s most exclusive clubs and calls many of their members his close friends.
He has the cash and connections to join their ranks. Just not the inclination.
“I love those lay-outs and appreciate the atmosphere at those clubs,” he says of redoubts such as Riviera, Bel-Air and Los Angeles Country Club. 
“But they’re also pretty much all about the golf. And at this point in my life, if I’m going to write a check, it can’t just be all about me.”
An avid player and nine-handicapperf, Landes has written a cheque, but he signed it over to a club better suited to his standing as a busy family man with a wife and two kids. Four years ago, he bought a home, and a membership, at Pronghorn, a residential and resort community in Bend, Oregon. 
A two-hour flight gets Landes there. But just as often, he piles the entire gang – and occasionally the in-laws – into the car and makes the day-plus drive to the high-desert retreat, which rollicks over 640 acres through a 1,000-year-old juniper forest.
Pronghorn boasts two courses: a dramatic Jack Nicklaus design and a pristine, members-only Tom Fazio track. But their green-fingered fairways don’t come close to covering the club’s full reach.
 The options extend to such activities as hiking, biking, white-water rafting, rock-climbing, wine tasting and fly-fishing, to name just a few.
 Landes’ kids, ages 9 and 14, can take part in outdoor adventures through Camp Pronghorn, or hang out all day at the Trailhead, a recreational centre with two pools, a basketball court, a tennis court and more. There is refined dining. There are casual restaurants. There’s a spa that deals in everything from hot-stone facials to aromatherapy massage.
Pronghorn, in short, gives Landes all the golf that he can handle, at a club that his whole family can embrace.
“When we arrive, it’s like pulling into a Four Seasons, except that we have a home there,” Landes says. “It’s absolutely beautiful. And it’s got pretty much everything we could ever want.”
Put your ear to the ground at top private clubs from coast to coast, and you hear echoes of the same refrain.
Distant are the days when a guy – and mostly, they were guys – could vanish behind a veil of cigar smoke for a weekend of hoots and hacks with his buddies, only to reappear at the family dinner table on Sunday night.
 Society has changed, along with economics and expectations.
Those grand old clubs of your grandfather’s era, which required not just thick bankrolls but the right bloodlines, which encouraged spouses to play but maybe only on ladies’ days, which allowed kids on the grounds so long as they kept mum – those clubs still exist, and probably always will. 
But increasingly they seem like hickory-shafted 1-irons: impressive artifacts used only by a rare few.
Eavesdrop on today’s clubhouse conversations, and the chatter sounds different than it once did. Patrician tut-tutting and good-old-boy backslapping have given way to talk of “kids’ camps,” “family programming” and “lifestyle amenities.”
“My belief is that the old-school country club was where guys went to get away from their families,” says Michael S. Meldman, founder and president of Discovery Land Co. 
“We want the kind of places where you go to be with your family.”
Established in 1994, Discovery Land has 16 properties in its portfolio, posh residential communities designed to appeal across generations. Though a number of the clubs sit in traditional golf meccas, they all put the grand old game to a contemporary turn.
Take The Madison Club, in La Quinta, California, an upscale but understated getaway that embodies golf’s new era of relaxed sophistication. Cellphones are permitted, as are board shorts and T-shirts. Rock-and-roll pumps from speakers on the practice range.
The golf course itself is plenty grown-up, a 7,400-yard Tom Fazio design, dug out of the desert in a feat of engineering reminiscent of Shadow Creek. But the club doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“Let’s be honest: a lot of golf clubs are intimidating,” Meldman says. “The policies are intimidating. The whole experience is intimidating. We’re going for the opposite.”
Meldman’s youthful ideas about the game took shape in the early ’90s when his own children were young. Though Meldman loved taking them to the course, he hated fighting with them to don the proper threads. 
So he did away with dress codes at his own clubs, and added other elements (coolers with Cokes and candy bars, for instance) that he knew his kids would like.
Over the years, those small gestures have swelled into sweet amenities for all ages. At The Madison Club today, three comfort stations await you during your round, including a self-serve restaurant stocked not just with Coke and candy but also Kobe beef sliders, a cocktail bar and an ice cream sundae station.
 Alongside the 14th green, a fruit market brims like Carmen Miranda’s headdress with pineapples, papaya, mangos, you name it. 
There’s a reason we call The Madison Club ‘the five-pound round,’ ” Meldman says.
While The Madison Club has created a kid-in-the-candy-store culture, Martis Camp feels sprung from a children’s fairy tale. Set high in the Sierra Nevadas, between Truckee, Calif., and North Lake Tahoe, the club provides perks you might expect from a private luxury second-home community: championship course, killer clubhouse and cuisine, custom homes on lots with generous setbacks. But the biggest draw for members is the family-centric climate.
Emblematic of the vibe is Martis Camp’s red Family Barn, an outsize facility equipped with pool tables and a pool, an old-fashioned soda fountain, a basketball court, a two-lane bowling alley, a 44-seat movie theatre and more.
Some 26 miles of hiking and biking trails snake out from the property, while a scenic 12-mile drive takes members from the main gate to the Beach Shack, a sandy oasis, on the shores of Lake Tahoe, with valet parking, kayaks and paddleboards.
In the Tahoe region, golf season ends in early autumn, but Martis Camp thrums year-round with its own ski lodge and private access, by way of a high-speed quad chairlift, to Northstar California, one of the West’s top ski resorts.
“Yes, we’ve got a great course; we’ve got a great clubhouse,” says Martis Camp general manager Mark Johnson. “But more than anything, we’re a family community, and that shows in everything we do.
Even as private clubs evolve, certain golf traditions remain untouchable.
“Members still want to come out and play in under four hours,” says Jason Epstein, director of golf at the Club at Las Campanas in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “They want to play for a little money. They want to grab a drink or have lunch together. You’ve got to protect the sanctity of all that.”
And Las Campanas does, leaving plenty of room for serious golf on its two Jack Nicklaus Signature courses. But while protecting cherished aspects of an exclusive club, Las Campanas also takes pains to feel inclusive. 
Throughout the year, Epstein and his staff pepper the calendar with free lesson days and junior golf clinics; barbecues and cocktail mixers; and relaxed competitions such as a couples championship, and a three-hole Fourth of July tournament in which novice golfers can play to enlarged cups.
“We’re not trying to reinvent the game,” Epstein says. “We’re just trying to make it more fun.”
Fun, of course, takes different forms for everyone, which is why today’s top clubs are such versatile places. Few range as widely as The Cliffs, a collection of seven communities spread across the Blue Ridge Mountains from Asheville, North Carolina, to Greenville, South Carolina.
Each community has its own distinctive character. Each also has a golf course, but they all share a commitment to offering a rich life beyond the links. Scott Spiezle, 61, and his wife, Susan, spend roughly half the year in their home in The Cliffs at Mountain Park community, alongside a new Gary Player lay-out that both play regularly.
When Scott isn’t on the course, he might be hiking, biking or fly-fishing. Odds are Susan will be playing tennis. In the evenings, their social calendar keeps full. At The Cliffs, there’s a wine club, a whiskey club, a bridge club. 
There are elegant dinners in the clubhouse, and relaxed get-togethers at the pool.
“We’ve got so much going on,” Spiezle says, “that every now and then I’ll turn to Susan and say, ‘How about tonight, we sit around and do absolutely nothing?’ ”
At today’s private clubs, that’s an option, too.
–Josh Sens is a freelance writer from Oakland, California



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