Clubhouses Help Create Course Atmosphere
by Keasha Palmer
When you think about it, after the course itself, the most important feature of any club is its clubhouse. It not only adds to the personality and atmosphere of a course, but, as Jerry Roberson of the recently opened Boulder Creek GC in Grand Rapids said recently, "It's part of the whole experience."
And while Michigan clubhouses come in a huge variety of sizes, shapes and designs, there's one thing they all have in common: they're designed with golfers in mind. The building, the views, the decor, the furniture, even the paintings are carefully chosen to reflect what members or guests will like. Michigan Golfer talked to several club owners and managers to see what went into the creation of their clubhouses.
Tucked between Lake Mecosta and Canadian Lakes and styled after an 18th century French country manor, the St. Ives clubhouse was designed "to make golfers feel comfortable," said co-owner Judy Browning, "and also to be extremely flexible_so when we have several events going on at the same time, we can accommodate everyone." Consequently, the rooms are easily accessible for crowd flow, with double French doors and wide openings. They're also very versatile_the large entrance hall, for example, can also be used for dancing, card playing or buffets. "Even if the whole clubhouse is taken over, you can mix and mingle and move back and forth. I think the members like it a lot," she added.
"Very traditional and very elegant" is how pro Doug White described the new clubhouse at Barton Hills, established in 1919. Although the 47,000+ square foot building was completed in 1992, "we wanted it to have the feeling that it's been here a lot longer," he said. On the main floor mahogany paneling, a marble top bar, leather furniture and a fantastic view of the course ("The bar is dead center on the 18th green.") all add to the atmosphere. A downstairs grill is a bit more casual. "A great course and modern facilities_it's a hard package to beat," said White. Fittingly, Barton Hills will host the U.S. Women's Amateur this summer. Players and visitors will surely be impressed with what they'll see on and off the course.
One of the most unusual clubhouse designs is found at Elk Ridge. Called "pods" these octagonal buildings were actually inspired by Native American teepees. "We were using lots of Native American artifacts from around this area to decorate the inside," said General Manager Scott Landane, "so it was only natural." Although the many angles first challenged him on matters of storage, White said the buildings have turned out to be great. "And the owners didn't spare any expense as far as furnishings, all the way from granite countertops to the accessories," he said. An outside deck on the back side gives players a chance to sit back and enjoy the surroundings after a round. "The property here is just magnificent," said Landane.
Look closely: can you tell what the weathervane is atop the roof at Dunes Club? "It's a bent golf club -- our logo," explained Pro/Club Manager, Don Hettinga, "which gives you some idea of how hard our course is." Designed to be "low key, casual and very relaxed," this is not your typical country club. Standard kitchen fare is hot dogs and brats. "People here are very down to earth," said Hettinga, "mostly coming from Chicago on weekends." No tee times, no carts and very few rules, he said. "Just fabulous, fabulous golf." The clubhouse at The Dunes Club epitomizes functional, clean and minimalist design at its best; nothing too fancy but still refined in an understated way.
Although someone spread the word that Little Traverse Bay's clubhouse was inspired by Augusta, that's not exactly true, said co-owner Ted Frey. He ought to know -- he designed it. "I wanted it to look like an old farmhouse," he said, in keeping with the historic atmosphere of the area. It was also important to make sure the outside could be easily viewed by patrons of their highly regarded restaurant. Without a doubt, Little Traverse Bay has the most scenic view of any clubhouse in the state. "It's like a glassed-in porch," Frey explained, "so it allows everyone a great view of the golf course and the lake. People get here and they want to stay here," said Frey. Their trademark Michigan map just outside the clubhouse is all part of the many flowers they've used to landscape. "We wanted to be in harmony with both the land and the community," he said.
"Shakespeare House" at Chikaming is so named because it was designed after William Shakespeare's father's house. It was built as a temporary structure at the 1924 International Livestock Show in Chicago. "I believe it was dismantled and then boated across Lake Michigan to Chikaming," said club Pro John Phillips. By 1990 it was badly in need of restoration, which was then done through a special assessment in 1991. "It still has that same, rustic feeling," said Phillips. "There's a balcony overlooking the dining area and a large fireplace with a map of England over it." All three floors are still used, and an outside porch and lawn help accommodate large crowds, whether they are to be, or not to be.
"We're strictly a golf club, not a country club," said Wuskowhan's General Manager and Director of Golf, Mike Kernicki, "so our needs were a little different than most." The owners hired an architect who had never done a clubhouse, but had done some of their homes. "We wanted the feeling that it was just a comfortable, old house," said Kernicki, "and that it had been here 60 or 70 years." The clubhouse sits on the highest point of the property, surrounded by natural landscaping that includes dune grass, Michigan sandstone and trees indigenous to the area. Inside, other than in the pro shop, you won't find many paintings or photos of golfers to keep with the homelike atmosphere. "We're simple, but I think pretty elegant," said Kernicki.
They didn't start out to be a golf and fly casting club, said owner Darin Philport. "But when we discovered the Maple River, which we sit on, was one o the top fly fishing rivers in northern Michigan we thought, 'What a great way to combine two sports.' " Although the fishing doesn't start for another year, the golf course and clubhouse will open this spring. "The clubhouse has a 'rustic lodge' feel to it," said Philport. "It looks like something you'd see in Colorado." It has glass walls at both ends so guests can see all the way through to the course and river, and a large, open wildlife gallery displays animal trophies from all over the world. When their bed and breakfast opens next year, "We're going to be unique," said Philport.
Clubhouse designer Jane Baxter of Country Club Designs in Del Ray, Florida, says the main concern of most club managers is making sure golfers feel right at home. When designing for an existing club, "I try to get a feel for who the members are as individuals and try to meet as many people as possible to create a picture of the person who will be using it," she says. She also tries to get a feel for the community at large, "so it doesn't look like you brought a Florida building to Michigan." Of course, Baxter also has to worry about the details, such as "making sure the dumpster doesn't face the dining room." What's the most important feature of a good clubhouse, we asked? "Spikeproof floor coverings," she replied. "You wouldn't believe how many people slipped." Of course, the spikeless revolution may have overturned that worry for now.
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