Cordillera Ranch has earned swift recognition—and steady membership growth—through its “seven clubs in one” approach.
Earning recognition as “Course of the Year” is never anything to sneeze at, especially when it comes with a national spotlight and an opportunity to have your picture taken with Jack Nicklaus.
But in the case of Cordillera Ranch, which accepted that honor from the National Golf Course Owners Association at the Golf Industry Show earlier this year, recognizing the property with just a “course” label is a little like draping a sash that says “Best Hair” around Miss America.
While its Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course is certainly impressive, as is how Cordillera Ranch has staked out a prominent place for itself on the golf map in just seven years, there’s a lot more to what you’ll find at the property in Boerne, Texas (a half-hour north of San Antonio) that merits consideration for acclaim as well.
|The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch
AT A GLANCELocation: Boerne, Texas
Opened for play: 2007
No. of Members: 410 Full Golf; 215 Ranch
Clubhouse Size: 40,000 sq. ft.
Annual Golf Rounds: 19,000
General Manager: Monty Becton
Director of Golf: Marc DeWall
Director of Agronomy: Mark Semm
Food & Beverage Manager: Manny Ortiz
Executive Culinary Director: Brad Evers
Executive Chef: Isaac Cantu
Director of Recreation: Shane Reynolds
Membership Director: Debbie Pepper
Director of Tennis: Glenn Barton
Director of Real Estate Sales: Barry Denton
Vice President of Development: Charlie Hill
You can do a lot of driving through Cordillera Ranch’s 8,700 rolling acres on the southern edge of Texas’ Hill Country, in fact, before you’ll ever see anything that suggests “golf club.” And if you explore the property via cyber-travel instead, you’ll find immediately upon your home-page landing that a Golf Club shares equal billing with six other amenity-based groups, including the Tennis & Swim Club, Spa & Athletic Club, Social Club, Equestrian Club, Rod & Gun Club, and River Club.
The club component within the master-planned community, in fact, is officially known as The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch. And it was conceived as a package deal from the start, says Charlie Hill, Vice President of Development, once it became part of the strategy for attracting home buyers to the land that his father, David Hill, partnered to develop with some family friends who were its original owners.
“The project dates back to 1997, and initially there was no plan for a club; there were some water-rights hurdles that wouldn’t support a club component as part of the development plan,” Charlie Hill relates.
After solutions for those issues were devised, plans for offering club memberships were announced in 2003 that had an immediate impact in “ratcheting up interest” among potential home buyers, Hill says. Touting the appeal of a club structure that would help everyone of all ages take full advantage of all that the property has to offer “completely changed the dynamic” of how it was developed and marketed, he notes.
“Our buyer profile is outdoors-oriented families,” says Hill, who fondly remembers fishing and four-wheeling as a youth while visiting the family friends who owned the land. “And we did not want to have a perception of being a place for retirees. So from the start, creating and emphasizing all seven clubs was important, to attract the people who would want to move here and show them that they could have everyone in their family capitalize on all that is available here.”
The 700 homes now occupied at Cordillera Ranch include “as many young families, or even couples who haven’t yet started to have kids” as older professionals or retirees, reports Barry Denton, a former golf club professional who took the position as Vice President of Real Estate Sales after becoming a property owner himself. The community’s current demographics cover “the full range, including active professionals who have moved here from San Antonio or Austin or Houston and now telecommute in their jobs,” he adds.
There are already close to 300 children in the community, Denton says—and the long-range development plan, Hill adds, includes donating acreage on the property to the Boerne school district for a new elementary school, once Cordillera Ranch’s family population grows large enough. “It’s already a younger community population than you’d think, and there will be a school here, probably within seven or eight years,” Hill states. “When that happens, it will be a huge selling point that will help us to attract even more families.”
Certainly, having a golf course created by a signature brand-name designer with a signature hole that quickly earned recognition as “the most beautiful in Texas” (it has been so ranked by The Dallas Morning News for five years running) has been vital to fast-tracking a high profile for Cordillera Ranch. Golf is featured in the membership category structure, with a Full Golf membership earning full privileges in all seven clubs, while a Limited Golf membership has restricted (non-weekend) golf access, and a Ranch membership excludes golf.
For each category, Master, Conditional and Non-Recallable membership options are available; only Master Memberships can be transferred (but they do not have to be) when properties are sold. All membership options include refund provisions upon resignation (80% for Master and Conditional, 50% for Non-Recallable).
These contingencies provide added incentive to Cordillera Ranch’s ownership and management to make sure that the club component has a strong perceived value and is used to the fullest—as does the fact that the development strategy has called from the start for the clubs to stand on their own. “We see [the club component] as a profit center and not a loss-leader,” Hill says. “From year five, we’ve started to see that materialize with positive cash flow [from the club operations].”
After using a management company, North Carolina-based East West Partners, for the first 18 months after opening its club operations, Cordillera Ranch switched to an in-house structure that is now directed by General Manager Monty Becton, who brought management-firm experience from ClubCorp and Arnold Palmer Golf Management when he arrived in 2010. His current position, Becton says, calls for steady focus on orchestrating a multi-faceted operation that presents the full potential of the property in a manageable, and not overwhelming, fashion.
“While you want to ‘take members to water’ and encourage them to enjoy everything there is for them to do here, you need to make it easy for them to digest it all, too,” he says. “We’re always pushing the envelope here—and we’ve got a big envelope here to work with. But we also recognize that while ideas can be a dime a dozen, how you implement them is priceless.”
To build a proper structure for how all programs are executed, a “partner recognition initiative” sets service and performance criteria for Cordillera Ranch’s staff of 100, through which employees can achieve levels of distinction—Ranch Hand (Bronze Star), Wrangler (Silver Star) and Trail Boss (Gold Star)—and earn tangible rewards such as portfolios and travel bags, in addition to displaying their status on name tags.
With this support network in place, Cordillera Ranch’s department heads have forged ahead to roll out a continuous stream of inventive programming and member amenities and benefits through each of its seven core clubs. For example, Director of Recreation Shane Reynolds, who came back to Texas after spending eight years in Los Angeles helping UCLA develop an Outdoor Adventure program, now guides a full range of shooting-instruction activities that even includes a modern-day “Don’t Mess with Texas” reminder (target practice for women where they fire handguns through their handbags).
On the food-and-beverage side, after discovering that state law would allow a separate liquor license to be obtained using the tennis shop’s address (which is different than that of the clubhouse), a Cordillera Ranch Cellar Club was established to bring wine-sales benefits to members as well as to club operations (from an additional $150,000 a year in retail sales). For separate Cellar Club memberships of $20/month (with an annual commitment), preferred pricing is offered through wine pre-sales that includes access to highly allocated wine. Cellar Club members also get 20 percent off the club’s wine list (bottles only) and 20 percent off popular wine dinners organized by Food & Beverage Director Manny Ortiz, Executive Culinary Director Brad Evers and Executive Chef Isaac Cantu.
As Cordillera Ranch’s management team has successfully engaged members, new interests, activities and special events have grown exponentially from the programming offered by the seven clubs. “Basically, we tell people that if you don’t want to meet anyone or do anything, just don’t give out your cell number or e-mail,” says Denton. “Otherwise, you can’t help but have a full schedule of things you never knew could be done here, or that you never imagined yourself doing.”
Because the golf membership category has a cap of 450 and there are still about as many lots to be developed at Cordillera Ranch as have already been sold, club activities that go beyond golf stand to take on further importance in coming years.
“We’ll definitely run out of golf memberships before lots,” says Hill. But he doesn’t anticipate putting any limits on the Ranch category. “If we continue to deliver a good product, there’s no reason why that [membership category] can’t continue to expand,” says Hill. “The more we can do to show people how much is here for them within the gates, the better it will be for reaching our overall goals for the property.”