The Indian Wells, Calif., property has received 79% member approval for a $13 million project, that will see $1.5 million invested in the golf course, and $11.5 million to transform the clubhouse into a more relaxed, casual atmosphere. “What we are seeing is there is still an enthusiastic market, but it is a much smaller market,” said General Manager Mike Kelly.
Like many private courses in the golf-rich Coachella Valley, The Reserve Club in Indian Wells, Calif., is going through challenging times as the club approaches its 20th anniversary this fall. Golf participation remains flat after more than a decade of decline, and private clubs are looking to grow memberships and get younger, the Palm Springs, Calif., Desert Sun reported.
Even in the Coachella Valley, golf courses have closed or are for sale for land uses other than golf, the Desert Sun reported.
But General Manager Mike Kelly isn’t convinced that the argument many critics use about shrinking memberships at private clubs—that the country club lifestyle just doesn’t resonate with younger generations—is accurate, the Desert Sun reported.
“Everybody sees that as a concern across the country,” said Kelly. “What we are seeing is there is still an enthusiastic market, but it is a much smaller market.”
In the coming months, The Reserve will implement $13 million in capital investments, a majority of which will be aimed less at golf and more at improving the country club lifestyle, the Desert Sun reported.
“We are expanding our reach and our thought process. A place like the Reserve, I’ve been doing this 20 years, this is a place that isn’t going anywhere,” said Kelly, who previously worked at clubs like PGA West and the Preserve in Carmel. “We are making the changes. You are more casual. You are relaxing dress. You are improving technology. You are allowing those things, but providing it so it is not intrusive.”
Changes at the Reserve this summer will mirror changes at other desert courses in recent years. All the changes are about enhancing the quality of the membership experience and accepting that golf may no longer be the main selling point for many clubs, the Desert Sun reported.
“When you look at the desert or the valley, I think you have a very specific and distinct client for Bighorn, for Vintage, for here,” Kelly said. “And they are all different. You just have to highlight those differences.”
The Reserve Club golf course was designed by the team of Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, with Weiskopf overseeing the construction of the course against the hills of south Palm Desert and Indian Wells when it was built in 1998. It is Weiskopf who also shepherded the course through some changes in recent years, including the removal of 30 bunkers five years ago, leaving the 18-hole course with 90 bunkers, the Desert Sun reported.
“Tom is coming out this year and we are going to ask, what is our five-year look. What is it we want to do?” Kelly said. “Because we want this golf course and we want this community to remain at the highest level.”
Some of those questions will be about how the golf course is playing today for the Reserve membership. “This is a very low-density community. This was designed to only have 250 or 260 total members. We only have 219 total home sites. So we’ll do 9,000 to 10,000 rounds a year. Our playing is a good pace. Over those years, you’ve got to take a look at compaction, you’ve got to take a look at all the things that have happened with the greens, you’ve got to look at bunkers.”
Inevitably, upgrading a golf course and community involved spending money, and that’s what is happening at Reserve. The club will spend $1.5 million to upgrade the 20-year-old irrigation system. But as has been true at other golf communities in recent years, the major investments at The Reserve Club won’t be on the golf course. Instead, they will be investments in the lifestyle of the club, specifically a re-designed clubhouse, the Desert Sun reported.
“We are literally going through and have finalized a $11.5 million clubhouse renovation,” Kelly said. “We went through the vote and it was a 79% approval vote. That’s an enormously high and successful mandate where the members stood behind the club and saw we really need to make some changes and upgrade and facilitate things.”
The idea behind the renovation is to take the existing clubhouse and offer a more casual and relaxed atmosphere while retaining the formal aspect of a dining room for events or for those members who want a traditional experience in a club’s dining room, the Desert Sun reported.
The Reserve is also pushing existing amenities and programs that perhaps haven’t been known in the past. That includes non-resident non-equity memberships, something more and more private clubs are offering. The Reserve is also pushing the idea of its so-called trophy holes, a group of a regulation par-3, par-4 and par-5 separate from the course but available for all members, the Desert Sun reported.
“They are as good as any golf hole we have. We have playing lessons where you can go out on those three holes and have a lesson,” Kelly said. “We have guys and gals who want to practice, they want to work on something, they go to the range, then they can go to the trophy holes. Not only that, what we are seeing too is it is great for families.”
According to Kelly, The Reserve is already seeing progress. “We have sold more memberships this last year than we did in the three years prior to that,” he said. “And we are off to a good start this year.”