Clubs’ outdoor spaces have never been busier, and properties that recently updated their fresh-air surroundings are seeing usage that now extends far beyond the traditional seasons.
Patios are finally getting their due. As soon as clubs were given the green light to reopen their facilities, these outdoor spaces came to the rescue as safe havens for socializing—and social distancing.
Offering a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively), the places that were formerly designated as a post-game respite are now commanding more time and attention from their members.
Renewed PurposeAdding purpose to an underutilized space was the main goal of a patio redesign at the Field Club of Omaha (Neb.). As General Manager Greg Gilg, CCM, PGA, describes it, the existing space was an extension of the pool area that did not promote socializing.
“While it was meant to be a 19th hole, members would either go to their respective locker-room patios or the mixed grille patio,” he explains. “When those filled up, our golfers would decide to go have post-round drinks elsewhere.”
So updating the patio area became a no-brainer, and it was reopened in April 2019.
While still a modest 900 sq. ft., the Field Club’s patio, located on the west side of the clubhouse next to the golf staging/check-in area, can hold approximately 50 guests. Accommodations have doubled in the new design, thanks to two 5 x 5 firepits—each of which seat 16 comfortably—and an external wall that doubles as a seating area.
While one firepit boasts a large sectional, the other has individual lounge rockers. Four patio tables with chairs, along with high-top chairs for the bar area, round out the myriad seating options.
Awash in a soft beige palette, the patio features landscape stone for the floor and landscape block for the sitting wall. Landscape lighting draws attention to the elevated surface. which was raised four feet in the new design. Flame heaters next to each table provide extra warmth during cool evenings.
The addition of a handicap-access ramp, although not required, has resulted in an unforeseen benefit for F&B operations. “Interestingly, it has helped significantly with getting heavy service items to the patio for when we do grill-outs,” notes Gilg.
During construction, the project ran into a snag when drainage was not added as per the specs. As a result, about 50 percent of the floor needed to be pulled up and repatched to eliminate standing water issues. “Squeegees were our best friend for spring 2019 rains, until we had that fixed,” says Gilg.
Addressing this issue enabled the club to tackle another potential hazard in advance. “We have a small strip patio, and we did not want to inundate that area with runoff from the patio,” Gilg adds. “So we trenched a drain to the main storm sewer, to make sure we didn’t have issues over time.”
Determining what type of food service to offer guests also impacted patio operations. While the club’s snack bar kitchen is attached to the 19th hole, the chef only uses this workspace during the pool season. The club ultimately decided to create a special “Nibbles” menu (rather than full service) for a more streamlined process for the F&B staff.
“We are better because of those learning experiences, but our bumper seasons will always give us issues because of the distance between where the food is prepared and where it is served,” Gilg notes, adding that F&B makes up less than 10 percent of the 19th hole’s total revenue.
These challenges aside, the Field Club’s outdoor patio business has been booming. In addition to the past winter’s five igloos, which had a 93 percent booking rate over a three-month period, 19th-hole revenues were up 43 percent in 2019 and 68 percent in 2020.
Given the popularity of the space, Gilg does not expect to allow any small events on the patio in the months ahead, but will focus on member events such as live music, bourbon tastings and tapas/tequilas. “These events drive even more usage, as those in attendance are generally non-golfers who end up returning to use the space when golfers are not around as much,” he observes.
At Plantation Lakes Golf & Country Club in Millsboro, Del., plans for a new 22,500-sq. ft. clubhouse, which houses the Landing Bar & Grille, included a 2,400-sq. ft. outdoor patio that opened in December 2019. Part of a residential golf community, this space has been become well-utilized not only by its members, but by non-members visiting the Landing dining facility.
“From our beautiful bar area to our outdoor patio space and fine-dining area, there is something to suit all taste buds,” says General Manager Brian Fedish, PGA.
Overlooking the tenth hole and neighboring Betts Pond, the upper-level patio is conveniently located on the south side of the Landing Clubhouse. The casual layout features a mix of neutral-toned high tops, bar stools and tables that mesh well with the calm blue tones of the Cape Cod-style clubhouse. Lighted ceiling fans add to the breezy vibe in the warmer weather, while an array of portable heaters take the chill off cool evenings.
Beneath the main patio is a separate outdoor space reserved for Plantation Lakes residents and golfers. “It’s a great spot to lounge after a round with friends and have a small bite and a few beverages,” notes Fedish, adding that food service is limited to the Putt Hutt concession stand.
Seating options (with total accommodations for up to 75) include an inviting cluster of Adirondack-style chairs surrounding a fire pit, seven umbrella-table-and-chairs sets, and plush loungers that match the clubhouse’s soft blue palette. A neighboring pergola provides a picturesque setting for intimate wedding ceremonies, and the area can be rearranged to host other private events as needed.
To help maintain longevity of the patio space, routine power washings keep the main furnishings in tip-top condition. The club’s staff also makes a point of conducting routine walkthroughs to address any area that needs special attention.
While the patio has proved to be especially beneficial during the pandemic, the installation of a porch enclosure system later this spring will help to extend the season. According to Fedish, vinyl roll-downs will convert the area into a tent-like structure for cozy outdoor dining. “They will offer an additional space for more versatility with normal dining and for special events,” he notes.
Taking the Long View
Maximizing a property’s natural surroundings was the ultimate goal of the patio renovation at the Mirabel Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. In February 2020, as part of a larger clubhouse renovation, the existing structure was expanded by tying it into the club’s peninsula bar area.
“We wanted to take the ultimate advantage of our down-valley views and spectacular sunsets,” explains General Manager/COO Marcie Mills, CCM. “Outdoor dining is very important to our members, especially in Arizona.”
On the south end of the building, the 3,222-sq. ft. patio features 1,369 sq. ft. of covered space, with the exterior roof protecting the bulk of the tables from the sun. The extended footprint bumps up the previous design’s occupancy from 48 to 80 guests. Members can choose to relax in one of several seating areas, ranging from high-top tables to custom-built fire pit tables and an indoor/outdoor community table.
With each table spaced out, social distancing is easily achievable and strictly enforced. “The state of Arizona has rescinded all occupancy guidelines at this point, but we still follow CDC guidelines,” notes Mills.
Within each mini-environment, the overall design pays tribute to the natural landscape. Stone-top tables blend well with dining chairs in a mixture of grey and brown, with pops of color in the soft blue and orange accent pillows (all in a fade-resistant fabric, to withstand the sun’s penetrating rays). Flooring is comprised of flagstone and brick, softened by accent and landscape lighting. Mounted heaters and ceiling fans provide the proper heating or cooling, depending on the weather—a necessity for the range of conditions that go with desert living.
In fact, Mirabel’s setting also influences the ongoing care and maintenance of its patio. “Since Arizona tends to be dusty, we need to blow off the patios and hose them down on a daily basis,” says Mills, and the patio furniture is also wiped down periodically.
During construction, a miscalculation of the roof’s load caused it to bow, which delayed the project by two months. After reinforcing the roof with stone pillars and steel, the remainder of the installation proceeded without a hitch. And just in time, as diners were eager to spend time at the club in a safe, open-air environment.
Since the patio’s February opening, dining revenues have increased by 37 percent and the firepit dining tables have proved to be a big hit for parties of 8 to 10. “Members are gravitating to outside dining with our perfect spring Arizona temperatures,” says Mills. “We have a full patio every night.”
As part of a member-driven capital improvement plan in 2018, the patio footprint at Willow Oaks Country Club in Richmond, Va. was enlarged from just under 1,800 to approximately 5,000 sq. ft., enabling a major boost in member accommodations. And after two years of usage, the patio expansion has proved its worth even further, particularly over the last 18 months.
According to General Manager Christopher Welles, CCM, the updates increased the number of dining seats by 85 and provided new soft-seating areas for another 35. The result is two distinct zones for different age groups: one for families just off the club’s main dining area, and the other for ages 21 and up that is adjacent to the club’s smaller casual restaurant and bar area.
“With more space, we were able to social-distance and customize the setting as needed during COVID,” notes Welles.
Another unexpected benefit of the patio’s design came from the decision to install five quick-connect gas lines running under the patio surface. While this setup was envisioned to provide the ability to add and move any gas feature, such as a firepit or chef’s cooking station, it has also serviced outdoor heaters during the pandemic’s colder months, extending the patio season.
At the back of the patio, an older practice putting green that had been converted into a lawn area was put to the test last fall when Willow Oaks hosted a “Tap Takeover” event for members. A local brewery set up on the grass and gave members a welcome reprieve from their everyday routines. “We plan to host another one again this spring,” Welles reports.
Summing It Up
Providing a mix of seating options provides plenty of space for casual dining and get-togethers.
> Added amenities such as firepits and porch enclosures help to extend the patio’s season and usefulness.
> Patio designs that draw upon elements from natural surroundings influence the selection of materials and furnishings.