Posted on July 19, 2017
Published by El Dorado News Times
By Madeleine Leroux
The El Dorado Golf and Country Club has gained nearly 100 new members in the past eight months and, with large-scale change on the horizon, the club’s board is hoping to see even more growth.
Toddy Pitard, president of the club’s board of directors, said the organization has been steeped in tradition, which made it difficult to adapt to the changing needs of its membership. At an El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday evening at the club, Pitard said the organization once boasted more than 500 members.
But that was in the 1980s and 1990s. By October 2016, membership had fallen to 285.
“We knew that was not sustainable,” Pitard said. “We had to make some big changes and we got to make ‘em quick.”
Since then, the club began changing its management, quickly followed by employing highly-rated chefs Lance Greer and Jerry Nixon, Pitard said, to help get the quality of food and service where it needed to be for members. Then came a consultant to help figure out a new vision for the club itself.
“He opened our eyes to the 21st century country club, which is different,” Pitard said.
While the club once was able to thrive by attracting golfers, mainly men, who then brought along their wives and families, Pitard said country clubs now have to begin by attracting the families, which means different amenities and services.
Eventually, the club was able to attract the help of Dan Snider, who has extensive experience in overseeing top golf courses, such as the Alotian Club in Little Rock. Pitard said Snider agreed to give the club one year of his time and expertise after visiting the community and seeing the energy of the people. Through Snider, Pitard said, the club was able to hire a new general manager – Justin Awtrey, who will begin July 31. Pitard said Awtery comes from a club with a membership of more than 1,000, and noted his father was the executive director of the PGA.
In order to refocus on family, Pitard said the club began offering social memberships, where everything is included except golf, and tried hosting events to attract more people, such as a fireworks show for the Fourth of July, pool parties and even date nights with babysitting services.
Through these efforts, Pitard said the club is now at 384 members, a growth rate that astonished the professionals the club brought in to help.
But even that won’t be enough.
Looking to the future
The next step will be to address the physical club itself.
Pitard and Tricia Hammons, board secretary, said the club is now working on a plan to present to its members for major renovations. While the details are still being worked out, including the overall cost, Pitard said it will take several million dollars and likely will need to be done in phases.
The first phase will seek to address the building’s wiring, plumbing, roof and heating and air conditioning system, he said. Then, Hammons said, they will look to transform the pool to a Disney-inspired concept, along with a splash pad and playground. The board also hopes to turn a portion of the first floor area into a bar that overlooks the golf course and pool area, as well as redoing the course itself and adding a “state-of-the-art” driving range and practice course, Hammons said.
“We want to make it a place that people want to come with their families,” Pitard said.
Pitard said he hopes to be able to start the renovation this year, but first the plan has to be presented to and approved by members.
Through the renovation and internal changes, Pitard said he hopes to get membership up to 500 in the next six to eight months. Once membership hits that number, he said the club will implement a waiting list.
The club also is working with El Dorado Festivals & Events to try work out an arrangement that can give an added benefit to members, though nothing is set yet.
Pitard said the club will hit its 100th anniversary in 2o23, and the goal of all the changes is to make sure the club can last well into the future.
“Every business reinvents itself every five years,” Pitard said. “We have not.”
Madeleine Leroux can be reached at 870-862-6611 ext. 151 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.