A complete overhaul of its classic clubhouse is helping the Indian Wells, Calif. property develop new “inner strength” to properly complement its stunning surroundings.
AT A GLANCE
The Reserve Club
The current trend in golf course renovations is to restore classic designers’ original intent, as part of a return to more traditional playing experiences. With clubhouses, though, it’s been just the opposite, as more casual and open atmospheres have taken hold at even the most historic properties.
Usually, this has resulted in the most dramatic clubhouse transformations occuring when decades-old buildings are repurposed. But as an indication of just how sweeping the shift in club lifestyles has become in the new millennium, you don’t have to always go back 50 or 100 years, or into older cities and regions of the country, to find examples of 180-degree facility overhauls. One of the most striking renovations to be found in the industry, in fact, has been taking place in a structure that’s less than 20 years old—and in California’s Coachella Valley, of all places.
As 2019 began, The Reserve Club in Indian Wells, Calif., was fast approaching the completion of what it called a “restyling” and “enhancement” of the 30,000-sq. ft., Tuscan-style clubhouse that was erected shortly after the club was founded in 1998. All of the “restyling” and “enhancement” was being done to the tune of $10 million-plus, and involved a complete blowout of the building’s insides, with $1.6 million being spent for new doors and windows alone, according to Mike Kelly, The Reserve Club’s CEO/General Manager.
As Kelly led a visitor through the clubhouse while construction was in the homestretch towards the end of 2018, he made references to “George Washington” and “Knights of the Roundtable” when describing some of the interior design motifs that had previously prevailed (and to help explain why another $2.2 million was being spent on new furniture, fixtures and equipment).
“It definitely didn’t feel like you were in California,” Kelly says of the original clubhouse. “Pretty much everywhere you turned, you ran into something heavy and dark.”
So why not just blow everything up and go all-out Cali modern from the ground up? “The bones were great, and we saw we didn’t have to do that,” says Kelly, a 20-year industry veteran who came to The Reserve in 2015, after previously working at properties including PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. and The Preserve in Carmel, Calif.
“The exterior is unique and could still fit well with the club and how it is changing,” Kelly adds. “We just needed to repurpose the rooms to fit with how the club has become more casual, and to take better advantage of where [the clubhouse] is positioned on the property, with an incredible surrounding landscape and down-valley views.”
Bringing about those changes, Kelly says, meant doing everything possible to open up the floor plan and create a “lighter look” throughout the interior, while eliminating the sense of enclosed exclusivity that was the dominant theme of the previous layout. Now, the emphasis would be on interconnecting inside rooms to create multiple gathering points and maximize their functional flexibility, while also creating ways to extend as much of the space as possible beyond the walls, to always enable and encourage full enjoyment of what was outside.
At the same time, working within the existing skeleton would make it possible to retain and enhance unique features like the massive stone fireplaces, sweeping archways and other classic touches that had been built into the original design.
The new, “enhanced and restyled” version of The Reserve clubhouse will still provide elegant space for formal dining and private events for those desiring those amenities. But it will also feature a multi-purpose al fresco kitchen into which a high-end, $30,000 mobile pizza oven can be rolled out, along with many other new bars and casual spaces, special-event areas, and expanded terraces in and around the clubhouse.
In fact, even though The Reserve is part of a community where the “low end” of real-estate offerings are “bungalows” that start just shy of $1 million—making it pretty likely that most of the members with on-site properties (only 30 of the 250 members are non-residents) have decent TV-watching options at home—the renovation has also included an outsized bet, in the form of four 75-inch flat screens around a full-service bar in the expanded men’s locker room, that the clubhouse will now become the preferred game-day gathering spot.
“There was no place to watch sports before,” says Kelly, who has drawn confidence from the membership’s 80% approval vote for the project that all of the clubhouse’s new features will be fully embraced. “But now we will have plenty of places, and reasons, to make this the first spot on the property where people will want to congregate.”
Ahead of the Game
While The Reserve may have had to overhaul its clubhouse more quickly into its lifecycle than most properties, it can point to many other parts of its 20-year history where it has been noticeably out in front of trends that have emerged during that timeframe to reshape the club business.
The club officially opened on Thanksgiving weekend in 1998, marking the culmination of a 10-year process to realize the dream of founder and developer Bob Lowe of Lowe Enterprises (The Reserve transitioned to a member-owned club in 2003-04.)
The property’s 700 acres (which extend into Palm Desert, Calif., in addition to Indian Wells) are unusually secluded and protected among the many golf communities in the Coachella Valley, bordered on one side by The Living Desert, a botanical garden and zoo, and on another by the University of California’s Deep Canyon Research Center.
Environmental stewardship was established as a founding principle for the property well before it opened, with more than 1,700 native trees and shrubs salvaged during construction that continue to thrive there today. The terrain offers the opportunity to enjoy a unique mix of plants native to the Valley and those that have been imported from the Southwest desert region, all carefully cultivated and maintained by a full-time staff led by Horticulturist and Arborist Lori Gavitt.
The incorporation of the desertscape (which accounts for 100 acres of the property) has been intentional not only to help conserve water in the interest of being responsible for the physical environmental, but also to introduce a unique element to the emotional environment that members and visitors encounter afer passing through The Reserve’s modest gatehouse.
“The desertscape is intended to help set the tone that this is not a big, gaudy place,” says Tom Cullinan, a Managing Broker for Reserve Realty and one of the original management-team members for the club operation.
“There’s no ostenatious entry [to the property] and everything is low-key,” Cullinan explains. “We want people to go through a ‘decompression zone’ as they come over our bridge and into the community. It’s as authentic and pure as anything you can find in the Valley.”
The desired prevailing atmosphere is also reinforced by special features such as “tranquility gardens” that can be found throughout the property. Then there’s “Mountain Top,” a secluded terraced area at one of the property’s highest points that is fully equipped for outdoor events and offers even better down-valley views than from the clubhouse. Available to Reserve members for no rental fee and able to accommodate groups of as many as 50 to 60, Cullinan says Mountain Top evokes the throwback appeal of the earliest days of the Valley’s development as a resort destination, calling it “a ‘Rat Pack-type of party place.”
While The Reserve was always intentionally conceived as a low-density community, with just 220 total home sites, that has by no means limited the level and variety of activities offered to and participated in by club members.
For golf, the mix of native and desert landscape provides a unique setting for the 18-hole championship course designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Moorish that is one of only a handful in the Valley with bentgrass greens.
Reflecting the trend for providing additional holes that can be used for practice or short rounds and that go beyond a chip-and-putt nature, golf at The Reserve also includes a trio of “Trophy Holes,” made up of a regulation par-3, par-4 and par-5 that are separate from the main course but also available to all members to play at any time without reservations (no tee times are required to play the main course, either).
“[The trophy holes[ are as good as any golf holes we have,” says Kelly. “And we’ve seen that they’re great for families, too.”
The Reserve also offers a double-ended driving range measuring over 380 yards (see photo, pg. 22), And the club didn’t neglect golf when allocating capital-improvement dollars in anticipation of its 20th anniversary—concurrent with the clubhouse renovation, $1.5 million was also spent on upgrading the course’s original irrigation system.
Golf Course Superintendent Alan Stuessy, who came to The Reserve from PGA West in 2018, says the new system will bring even more efficiency and control to help the club stay out in front of its water-conservation efforts, which have always been a primary concern for operating any golf course in the Valley.
“Doing more to find new efficiencies fits with the culture and environmental direction that the club has always had and its emphasis on preserving the natural desert setting,” says Stuessy.
A Full Slate
The Reserve has also always checked all of the boxes for designing a property and planning member activities to provide a well-rounded club life beyond golf. Its clubhouse was positioned from the beginning to be the central part of a club-village concept that also includes separate structures for a fitness and wellness center, pro shop and the Lakehouse, a casual-dining venue.
From the start, the club’s full amenities list has reflected, and been expanded to stay in step with, the trends for more family-friendly and wellness-oriented offerings. Pickleball, yoga (including the aerial variety), a dog park, and hiking and walking trails (a total of 26 miles) are all now part of the mix and in many cases have been in place for years.
For its culinary program, The Reserve has benefitted from the strong and loyal following built up from the club’s opening by Executive Chef/Food & Beverage Director Hugh Duffy, an Irishman by way of Iowa who was one of the charter members of the club’s management team. The new dining capabilities and venues offered in the renovated clubhouse only promise to further expand the excitement that Duffy and his staff have always generated as part of their ongoing crusade to prove that Irish-inspired cuisine doesn’t have to be boring.
“It’s only boring if you’re bored with it,” Duffy told one local food reviewer, who then marveled over a brisket sandwich, featuring onions caramelized in Guinness beer, that has long been established as a lunchtime menu favorite at the club.
With The Reserve limited in how many members it can draw from on-site properties because of the development’s low-density nature, and with golf memberships also nearing capacity, offering a wide variety of amenities and events has increased in importance as the club has put added emphasis on expanding the non-resident segment of its membership ranks.
Director of Membership, Sales & Marketing Denise Adams—a former ClubCorp executive who works closely with The Reserve’s Director of Special Events, Nicole Hughes, to ensure that all of those who are on property, or coming to it, are well aware of all that’s available—says the buzz over the clubhouse makeover and other improvements has spiked “huge interest” in memberships, particularly among non-resident prospects.
But as always, the property itself will retain the greatest appeal. “It’s a place where you can be as busy and active as you want to be—but if you don’t want to do anything while here, that’s fine, too,” says Kelly. “The only thing we want to be overwhelming is your sense of awe for the surroundings.” C&RB