By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News
By the time this edition reaches Four Points homes, River Place Country Club members might have already spotted some changes in the facility’s grounds, with more improvements on the way.
On April 23, Dallas-based Arcis Golf took over ownership and management operations of the RPCC, 4207 River Place Blvd., together with all Dominion Golf Group clubs.
“We identified Dominion Golf Group as a great candidate that would fit really nicely in our portfolio,” said Jim Oliver, Arcis chief operating officer.
Austin is a new market for the Dallas-based company that was founded in March of 2013 by CEO Blake Walker, he said. The acquisition also included two Austin-area private golf clubs — Onion Creek Club and Twin Creeks Country Club — as well as Lantana Country Club in Dallas.
“We’re still kind of in the honeymoon phase right now,” RPCC General Manager Kyle O’Brien said of the takeover. “It’s just been very exciting and eye-opening for all of us.”
Citing greater reciprocity with member clubs, RPCC Membership Director Haide Gonzalez said that by joining a much larger corporation, the acquisition opens up more opportunities for both members and staff.
Oliver praised River Place for being a “family-oriented” club with “beautiful views” and a Tom Kite-designed course.
“I think why River Place fits with us is we look at our private clubs really as ‘lifestyle hubs,’” Oliver said. “As a ‘lifestyle hub,’ it’s more than just golf.”
The company’s philosophy espouses four pillars: lifetime sports, experiential dining, health and wellness, and arts and entertainment. Arcis research confirms families spend a majority of their discretionary income in those four areas, Oliver said.
“I think there’s opportunities for us to improve the property to where it’s a complement to really the great community that exists there and all of the beautiful homes that surround it,” he said.
Capital improvements will be done to the club’s physical plan, with some changes starting later this year and others “relatively soon,” Oliver said. The improvements are expected to touch all facets of the club.
River Place not only has a great golf course but includes very active tennis and fitness programs as well, with plans in the works to further upgrade the club’s arts and entertainment programs, Oliver said.
In June, Arcis conducted focus groups to identify the events River Place members enjoy as well as activities the club “falls short on,” Oliver said. His staff is compiling the information gained from the groups and will send it out to club members with short- and long-term plans to address those concerns.
“Having that new set of eyes to come in and want to make changes, we’re all just really excited,” Gonzalez said.
Focus groups were conducted by Arcis at other newly-acquired clubs as well. Similar to some of the other former-Dominion clubs, the dining experience was noted by the groups as needing improvement, Oliver said.
“What we hear loud and clear, not only of River Place but of a lot of our places that we take over, is consistency is important to (members) and menu content is important,” Oliver said.
Specifically, members showed interest in “having some core menu items that (they) can count on” but also featuring different, local items that change seasonally, he said.
The membership appreciated the focus groups, saying they “felt like they had a voice directly with (Arcis),” Gonzalez said.
Although Oliver said he doesn’t see the club’s membership fee changing, dues may increase.
“Dues at country clubs will go up annually based upon (the fact that) it costs more to do business on an annual basis,” he said, adding club dues generally increase from 2 to 5 percent every year. “I don’t see that being any different from River Place or any other country club, either (for) clubs we own or don’t own.”
Oliver couldn’t pinpoint a cost to address possible issues at River Place, but said that “as clubs get older, deferred maintenance starts to stack up.” He said Arcis will look at RPCC membership responses to its focus groups to prioritize improvement projects.
“Some things probably weren’t addressed that needed to be addressed,” he said of Dominion.
For Arcis, who Oliver touted as the second largest owner/operator of U.S. golf facilities, further expansion in the Austin area is a possibility. The group’s portfolio now includes 18 clubs in Texas including Canyon Springs Golf Club in San Antonio. It has facilities in 14 other states, with six key cluster markets, including Austin, he said.
“You’ve got to really (offer) a great experience that the community wants to get involved in and be a part of,” Oliver said.