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El Dorado Golf and Country Club looks to move into the 21st century

Club approves $2.5 million plan by Caitlan Butler | June 24, 2018 at 5:00 a.m.
Course check: The ladies of the It’s Okay golf league check out the course with Country Club golf pros and executives.

The El Dorado Golf and Country Club unveiled an approximately $2.5 million renovation plan earlier this month that club officials say will bring them into the 21st century.

With membership down in recent years, officials at the club saw the need to modernize the amenities and facilities. The club held a vote amongst their membership this month on whether to move forward with the renovation plan, where 96 percent of voting members approved the measure, said Toddy Pitard, president of the club’s Board of Directors.

Starting this fall, the Country Club will begin renovating their main clubhouse, golf course, tennis courts and pool complex. General manager Justin Awtrey said the physical renovations would happen over the course of about a year.

“Obviously, we could do it quicker if we just shut the club down and did it all. We’re actually going to move in phases around the clubhouse so that our members can always dine and utilize the club,” Awtrey said.

Initial construction will include a new roof on the clubhouse and an upscale bar and lounge adjacent to the fully renovated main dining room. The ballroom will be eliminated to make space for the expanded dining room and the kitchen, which will move into the front area of what is currently the ballroom. Outdoor amenities will also undergo changes this year, in both physical features and programming.

Awtrey said the pool complex renovations would give members the feeling of being at a world-class resort. The pool will be resurfaced and an adjoining sundeck will be added.

“We’re going to expand that, with both modern amenities and service, to create very much that resort feel that you would get going to [an Orlando, Fla.] -based resort,” Awtrey said.

The club also plans to add a playground for children connected to the pool. There will be a gate separating the two so that children can still use the playground when it’s too cold to swim. Eventually, in phase two of the renovations, the Cove will be bulldozed and a pub that connects to the pool and clubhouse will be added, with grilling options available on the sundeck.

Pitard said societal changes have necessitated a shift in country clubs around the country.

“Eighty years ago it was if you got the guy, you got the wife [and] you got the kids. It’s not like that anymore,” Pitard said. “We’re changing the club to more of a family[-oriented], not a guy [with his] cigar type [of club]. It’s different now. And that’s what we’re doing now is changing to a 21st century club.”

“It’s family and business, and its adult-driven and business-driven,” Awtrey added.

In addition to the renovations to the property, the club has and will continue to introduce new programming for members. Several new athletic programs will launch throughout the summer, as well as new family-oriented activities.

Once the tennis court has been resurfaced, members will be able to try out Pickleball, which Awtrey and Pitard say is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, drawing both elderly and families.

“You’re hitting the wiffle ball with a wooden paddle, it’s about the size of a racquetball racket, and it’s shorter courts so you don’t move around as much,” Awtrey said. “It’s not as strenuous or challenging on the muscles as tennis.”

The club is also introducing weekly Dive-In Movie Nights this month, where they position a 15-foot inflatable screen by the pool to screen children’s movies. Parents can have dinner poolside while their children play in the water and watch the movie of the week with lifeguard supervision.

Some new activities are geared specifically to adult club members. During those activities, parents can drop their children off at Kid’s Care, where they will be provided with dinner and dessert and participate in games and craft projects with Country Club staff.

The club offers glow-ball night golfing and themed-dinner nights as some of the new activities for their adult members. So far, the themed dinners have been a success; Pitard said the club had a packed house when they had their first sushi night.

“With the talent that our chefs have, we’re really creating different experiences with different cultures,” Awtrey said. The Country Club recently hired Lance Greer and Jerry Nixon, five star chefs who are both originally from El Dorado.

This year will feature a re-launching of the club’s Kid’s Camp, a service that has not been available in recent years due to declining membership. With over 70 percent growth in the last 18 months, which Pitard said puts the club in the top 1 percent of country club growth nationally, they were able to reinstitute the popular program.

“Last year, we didn’t do a Kid’s Camp, so to have 28 children, and everyday these kids are just saying ‘I want summer camp every day, I want Kid’s Care every day,’ it speaks to what we’re trying to do, and that’s getting the children to want to come to the club. And the parents are enjoying the club more. It really speaks to the lifestyle club we’re creating,” Awtrey said.

One of the programs club officials are most excited about is the new It’s Okay golf league. Awtrey described it as a women’s empowerment group that allows women to learn the game of golf without pressure or expectations.

Designed by the club’s head golf pro Garrett Kent, the program is the first of its kind. Kent said that 45 percent of major corporations’ business deals take place on the golf course or through connections made on the course and that fewer than 2 percent of those deals involve women.

At this year’s inaugural meeting, women in pumps and suits socialized over wine and crackers as Kent explained some of the rules of the league, which include things like: it’s okay to not keep score; it’s okay to only count shots that actually make contact with the ball; and it’s okay to forget about a ball that is hit out of bounds. By the end of the list, there was a chorus of women saying ‘it’s okay’ along with Kent.

Women in the program get a weekly lesson from Kent. After that, they can choose to either stay at the pro shop for additional individual instruction or go play a few holes with some of the other ladies in the group.

“This is bringing so many women in, and businesswomen, to be able to try golf and get that empowerment of going out and having meetings on the golf course,” Awtrey said.

Renovations for the golf course are still being discussed internally. Awtrey said that a task force made up of club members and community leaders would be making recommendations about the course as well as the overall campus. Pitard said they will be including a new practice facility in front of the pro shop, so that members can hit balls without having to travel to the back of the course, but that would be part of phase two of their renovations.

As their membership continues to grow, the Country Club will become more exclusive. Once they reach 500 members, a waiting list will begin; to become a member at that point, one will have to pay an initiation fee that could reach up to $1,500. Awtrey said the club currently has over 420 members.

The club is the only place in El Dorado to offer a Fourth of July fireworks show. This year, they plan to make an all day party out of the celebrations on June 30, the Saturday before the holiday. The event is for members and their families only.

“[It will be] 30 to 40 minutes that will rival anything at Disney,” Awtrey said. “Our focus [is] creating that experience and lifestyle club our members want.”

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or [email protected].


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