Vista Hills Country Club is one step closer to getting approval from the city of El Paso to build homes on a portion of the Eastside golf course – part of an effort to build membership and shore up the club’s finances.
Last week, the City Plan Commission approved Vista Hills Country Club’s plans to build about 60 homes on more than 11 acres of land where the club’s maintenance facility and driving range are located. The club is seeking to rezone a part of the golf course from ranch-farm to planned residential.
The plans received little pushback from the surrounding neighborhood during the plan commission’s meeting last Thursday. The commission approved the club’s rezoning request, and the issue now heads to City Council.
“We are looking to build a gated golf course community,” said club board member Bill Greenawald. “We’ll move the driving range, and it will be made smaller. We will move the maintenance area because it’s really three times the size it needs to be.”
Greenawald said the plan is for everyone who buys a home in the gated community to become members of the club. He said there are also plans to build a resort-like pool with cabanas and volleyball courts.
He declined to comment on how much the club is investing or who the developer will be until the plans are approved.
Vista Hills Country Club is not the first golf club to propose building homes on its course as part of an effort to keep the club open. Clubs across the country, including a 100-year-old club in Baltimore County, Maryland, have proposed plans to sell parts of their courses to developers.
Like other clubs across the country, Vista Hills’ membership has been flat or in decline for years.
Vista Hills had a membership of 132 in November 2014, and membership has since fallen to 107, according to Greenawald. In its prime, Vista Hills had nearly 400 members.
“It’s tough these days because young people get instant gratification playing with their cell phones and computer games,” Greenawald said. “They don’t want to spend four hours or more playing golf.”
Greenawald hopes the housing development will boost their membership and the financial condition of the club.
The failure of the country club in nearby Santa Teresa several years ago, where the golf course and tennis courts are now in ruin, has made local club owners particularly jittery.
There are many theories about why golf is diminishing in popularity, including the falling star of Tiger Woods, changing family priorities and growing competition from other entertainment like video games and online social networks.
Coronado Country Club, located in a wealthy neighborhood on the Westside, is also worried about its future.
In 2014, the club sent a forceful letter to its neighbors, urging them to become members. Bobby Bowling, the owner of Tropicana Homes and a member of the club’s board, said they received little response from the letter.
The club has 520 members – about the same as it did in 2014.
“We have less than 40 percent of our neighbors who are members at Coronado Country Club,” Bowling said. “And that’s not sustainable for the long-term viability of our club.”
Even so, Bowling said the golf course is in the best shape it has been in years after the club invested more than $500,000 into it. The club also recently invested $250,000 to improve its dining and bar area.
But, Bowling said, water prices have increased 54 percent over the last five years. The course received reclaimed water through the city’s purple pipe program and had a negotiated rate. That rate has come to an end, Bowling said.
The club is budgeting $300,000 for water 2018 – 35 percent more than the club paid in 2010.
“We can make it if we can get neighbors of our country club to support the club,” he said. “We are going to try everything we can, including going door to door.”
El Paso Country Club is also working to boost membership. It is investing $8 million in its facilities to become more family oriented and attract more young people. The project will unfold over the next four years.
It includes a new 16,000-square-foot family center, expanded banquet facilities, outdoor patio, kiddie pool with splash park, tennis court improvements, a swanky dining room and a new grand entrance.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Aaron Montes at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 105, or (915) 777-4154. Twitter: @aaronmontes91.