“Burnt orange” stone, cowhide seats and Longhorn butter pats are just some of the special touches that help the University of Texas Golf Club’s new clubhouse complete the creation of a spirited and distinctive property.
On the day after Christmas in 2007, workers returned from a holiday break to begin the final month of construction for the new clubhouse at the University of Texas (UT) Golf Club in Austin. But on that first day back, a worker’s torch accidentally set the roof deck and surrounding wood trusses on fire. Winds that were gusting up to 35 miles per hour drove the flames down to the attic and into the nearly finished structure; the sprinkler system, while already installed, had not yet been hooked up to the main line.
Club:The University of Texas Golf Club Location: Austin, Tex. Architect: CCI Club Design Interior Design: Wilson & Associates General Contractor: Harvey-Cleary Builders Clubhouse Size: 16,800 sq. ft. enclosed; 24,000 sq. ft. under roof Project Cost: $8 million Dates: Jan. 2007-Oct. 2008 (a fire in Dec. 2007 gutted the new clubhouse when it was nearly completed; construction began anew in March 2008) Project Highlights:
A video taken by a nearby homeowner and posted on YouTube captured the rest of the drama, as the raging fire soon gutted most of what had been built to that point. One viewer was moved to post an online comment: “At least the flames were orange, not maroon.”
That comment—a reference not only to the signature “burnt orange“ colors of the University of Texas Longhorns, but also the maroon of the rival Texas A&M Aggies and Oklahoma Sooners—reflected the special passions that the developers of the UT Golf Club have been appealing to since the club first opened in 2003. And the story of how the new clubhouse was quickly rebuilt after the fire, and now serves as a centerpiece of lively activity for its membership, speaks volumes about how sound their strategy has been and how solidly their plans have been executed, even when pushed to the most extreme tests.
More Than a Good Place for Water
Building a club around a university with a rich golfing tradition and links to names such as Harvey Penick, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite and Justin Leonard would seem to be a natural. But it didn’t take shape that way from the start. The roots of the idea extend to the late 1990s, when Taylor Woodrow Communities, known for successfully combining golf courses and clubs with master-planned developments in Florida and other areas, was looking to do the same with the Steiner Ranch property in Austin, in which it had acquired a controlling interest.
Tied to a name that has been famous in central Texas for generations, through its connection to championship rodeo and cattle-raising, Steiner Ranch is only a half-hour from downtown Austin and the main UT campus, on the edge of the area’s “hill country,” overlooking Lake Austin and bordering the Balcones Natural Wildlife Preserve.
|A month short of its original completion date, fire gutted the new clubhouse. But it was quickly rebuilt with only “minor tweaks” needed to the original plan.|
Taylor Woodrow knew a golf course carved into the scenic terrain would be a natural enhancement to its real-estate development plans. But originally, says Robert Long, Director of Development for the company’s Taylor Morrison of Texas division, “we were thinking about a daily-fee course that would be a good way to make use of reclaimed water from [the development’s] treatment plant.”
A search for a partner with course development expertise led Taylor Woodrow to Mike A. Myers, a Dallas banker who had founded golf clubs in other Texas cities. As a UT alum and major booster of Longhorn athletics (the track and soccer stadium bears his name), Myers saw the potential for taking full advantage of the property’s proximity to the school. Soon a licensing agreement was worked out that would give the new club full use of the UT logo and brand, while the university in general, and its men’s and women’s golf teams in particular, could benefit from exclusive access to brand-new facilities.
The partnership, which was expanded to include Bill Duvall, President of Lincoln Property Co., then began to map out just what those facilities should include. Phase one was built around constructing the course; Bechtol Russell Golf Design—headed by Randy Russell and Roy Bechtol, a UT alum whose father Hub was a legendary All-American football player for the Longhorns—was the natural choice to design what opened in 2003 as a 7,154-yard layout.
To complement the course, a small structure to house a snack bar and pro shop was also built. And funds raised through a series of pro-am tournaments were used to create a separate and impressive new facility for the UT golf teams that was eventually expanded into a state-of-the-art instructional Golf Academy.
From the moment the new club opened, though, there were unmistakable signs that the concept could grow legs as powerful as a Longhorn fullback. Strong interest in being part of something tied to the university quickly brought the membership ranks close to the originally envisioned cap of around 800 (there are currently 430 local and 300 regional members). Golf activity rapidly accelerated to its current annual pace of 28,000 rounds. And UT-branded merchandise was not only flying out of the pro shop, it was also proving to be quite an online draw (annual sales now approach $800,000, with $75,000 coming through the club’s Web site).
Members were also showing a strong inclination to stay on the property to enjoy food and drinks, even though foodservice capabilities were quite limited and the best available seating area was an open-air banquet pavilion that didn’t exactly offer year-round, climate-controlled comfort, especially for Austin’s triple-digit summer days.
All of these developments made it clear the club was growing up fast enough to already prepare for the next phase. In addition to proceeding with a renovation that added a seventh set of tees and lengthened the golf course to over 7,400 yards in 2007, the club set plans in motion to have a new clubhouse ready for its fifth anniversary in 2008.
Small Feet and High Ceilings
But while the numbers made a good case for why a considerably larger new clubhouse might be needed, Steve Termeer, the UT Golf Club’s General Manager/Director of Golf, kept hearing a “been there, done that” message in the back of his mind that urged him to take a different approach. “I’ve worked at clubs with the 60,000-square-foot buildings,” Termeer says. “They just present a lot of potential headaches, first in building them and then operating them, that I didn’t think we wanted or needed to take on.”
Termeer was instead determined to create a space that would fit better with what he describes as the “comfortable but not overbearing” atmosphere that had already emerged as a distinguishing characteristic of the club. That led to the selection of CCI Club Design to draw up plans for a new building that only measures 16,800 square feet but looks, and functions, much larger.
|The unique appeal of special touches like cowhide upholstery and signature dishes like “Dirty Martini” mussels have helped to foster near-capacity fun on many nights in the Founder Room bar.|
“We needed [a designer] that would take our plan of how the building needed to work and then maximize the space utilization,” says Termeer. “CCI had shown with other projects that it’s very good at that, and in this case I think they may have done their best job ever, by including high ceilings and large windows that flow from one room to the next and help make sure nothing feels crowded.
“There is a actually ton of mass in the building—from one point, it measures 53 feet from the floor to the top of a chimney,” Termeer adds. “That’s pretty unique for what is still really a single-story structure.”
Other keys to having the building “read a lot bigger than it really is,” adds Ryan Yakel, CCI’s Executive Vice President/COO, included making the connecting corridors feel like “extensions of the rooms,” with custom-designed cases inset into the walls to house memorabilia not only from the UT athletic programs, but also the Steiner family’s colorful history. “Your focus isn’t on being in a hallway, but on looking at what’s in the trophy cases,” Yakel notes.
Even when the fire offered an opportunity to take a mulligan on the original plan and add more space, Termeer says the club could already see that the existing floor plan was going to work quite well. In fact, the only “minor tweaks” made the second time around, he says, were adjustments such as increasing doorway header heights, enlarging windows, and raising roof heights to further enhance the feeling of openness and take even better advantage of the great views taking shape from the various rooms.
The club also used the do-over to double the back patio space it had originally planned, because of the potential it now saw for how the new clubhouse could connect with the golf course.
|General Manager/ Director of Golf Steve Termeer knows that while a golf course can be a good place to be alone, F&B settings are not—so the UT Golf Club now provides the right mix of uncrowded comfort, both inside and out.|
“We didn’t design it this way,” Termeer reveals, “but we discovered as we built the main dining room that it has places where, from the proper angle, you can now see all six firepits that are outside in various spots around the 18th green. At night, that’s a pretty cool sight.”
Entirely Different Approaches
While his background is in golf (he was named the number-one high school player in the U.S. in 1986 and then played for UT), Termeer has learned as a club manager that there is another good reason to avoid creating cavernous spaces in a clubhouse.
“On the golf course, people like being by themselves,” he says. “But it’s completely different with food and beverage service—you don’t want to feel alone. And this is especially true, I think, in a club such as ours, where the average member age is 41 and there’s a lot of naturally kindred spirit and enthusiasm.” (While the club welcomes Aggies, Sooners and alums of all schools, 70% of the members are UT graduates.)
|Post-fire adjustments that included raising the roof level, enlarging the windows and expanding the patio space have helped to enhance the Tower Room grill’s connection with the golf course.|
That enthusiasm has been evident from the day the new clubhouse was finally completed—and was immediately put to the test. After a rebuilding that took just 10 months, 1,700 people came to the grand opening on the last weekend of October 2008. “It didn’t feel crowded at all,” Termeer reports.
Since then, the building has seen steady activity in both its Founder Room bar and Tower Room grill, which are separated by a sliding door. Each room also has easy access to ample outdoor patio space.
Driven by the appeal of “Dirty Martini” Mussels, house-made fries and other signature specialties of Executive Chef Wayne Brooks and his staff, traffic in the bar now frequently swells to near-capacity, Termeer reports. But the flexibility in how the clubhouse floor space was designed has made it possible to go with the traffic flows as they develop.
Overall, Termeer projects first-year revenues for F&B of at least $1.3 million. And while about two-thirds of that is now generated by a la carte sales, he doesn’t think achieving a more balanced mix with banquet sales will take long; bookings for receptions are now coming in quickly, he reports, as word circulates about the special fun that can now be experienced on this part of Steiner Ranch.
Cows Are the Butter
And make no mistake—while the UT Golf Club succeeded in conserving on actual square footage space in its new clubhouse, it didn’t certainly skimp on the details that now help to position it as a unique venue and brand. Whether it’s from the “burnt orange” mud vein that was used to give the clubhouse’s limestone walls a distinctive hue, or the heavy timber fir trusses and other “Austin feel” elements, or just the cowhide-backed seats in the bar and the butter pats embossed with the Longhorn logo, the connection with the University and its brand can’t be missed—and nothing but a good impression can be drawn.
“The partners have been great in allowing us to pay attention to every detail and to always do so in a way that projects the highest quality, without being overly grand,” says Termeer. “We never had concerns raised about the cost per square foot, even after the fire. And even with having to overcome that little ‘challenge,’ it’s still turned out to be a winner for everyone involved.”