Golf with a View… And More

February 28, 2009

Editor’s Note: Carol and Ernie are good friends and are the kind of folks who give of themselves. Carol coordinates the free to Mexican Nationals English classes at the Lake Chapala Society’s “Wilks Center” and Ernie volunteers his expertise in the food and beverage section of the Country Club.

In addition, Carol is an accomplished published author and ChapalaClub.com is very pleased to have her as a contributor. Sid

Golf with a View… And More

By Carol L. Bowman

For the serious or casual golfer, retirement holds the promise of… more golf. When considering that ideal location to wile away those freedom years, a challenging golf course and a climate that assures frequent play rank as high priorities on the requirement list. During our exploration of retirement locales, my husband and I exercised flexibility with other parameters, but ideal weather and a full service golf course remained etched in stone. Lake Chapala area offers a sure ace on both accounts.

An elevation of 5200 feet, a temperate zone, without extreme humidity, heat or cold, and a rainy season that generally limits itself to night time precipitation, provide delightful golfing weather every day of the year. To partner up with this seductive forecast, Chapala Country Club provides the only United States Golf Association rated course Lakeside. It offers glorious vistas, social and charitable functions, restaurant services, a wide variety of volunteer opportunities and activities for the non-golfer to complete a total, retirement entertainment package.

Founded in 1955, Chapala Country Club originally occupied the terrain of Chapala’s Cristiana Park. In 1967, the membership donated this land to the municipality of Chapala for use as a public park, and constructed the present facility at its current location in Vista del Lago. The new nine hole, 18 tee course, followed design recommendations provided by the USGA. With a slope rating of 126 and par 71, it measures 6,343 yards for men and 5,466 yards for women. “Two sets of tee boxes per hole are positioned in a way that present the golfer with a diverse and challenging golfing experience,” said Ernie Sowers, my husband, CCC member for 15 months and newly elected Board Member. “I play at least five days per week, and I haven’t been bored yet. Last summer, there were only two occasions when rain cancelled play. Coming from Northeastern US, with unpredictable weather patterns, I love the ‘get up and go golf’”, adds Ernie. “The short, five-mile jaunt from Chapala makes the commute for daily fun a breeze. Driving toward  the golf course, a brilliant, pink sunrise over Lake Chapala provides a spectacular start to every day,” he concluded.

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Players never tire of the anticipated vista viewed from the course’s signature hole, number 12. The expansiveness of Lake Chapala unfolds from the elevated tee, but in the distance, almost 60 miles away, Volcano Nevado looms, often snow capped in February. Volcano Colima hides directly behind Nevado, barely visible, amazing onlookers who know its location.

A full scale practice/putting green, a 14-bay driving range and a sand trap/chipping practice area round out the golf facility. The pro shop carries a modest selection of CCC logo shirts, hats, shorts and golf towels, all priced well below North American Pro Shop merchandise. Pricey balls, tees and gloves, available for sale as a convenience, reflect high Mexican import taxes. Members restock their supply of these items on return jaunts to the US or Canada.  The Cart Barn, manned by Benny, stores 100 carts, only eight of which serve as rentals. “With increased green fee players, more rental carts will be added to meet the demand,” comments John Campbell, Golf committee Chairman.

Members personally buy their own carts and store them on site. Benny charges the batteries and keeps the buggies spotless and in good repair. As soon as a member drives onto the parking lot, his cart magically appears, clubs at the ready, loaded from the bag storage area. To quote Ernie again, “Every golfer should have a ‘Benny’ in his life.”  Used carts frequently come up for sale for new members. I’ll always remember my Mother’s Day present last year from my husband. He unveiled an electric, shiny silver golf cart- and I don’t even play golf. What a guy!

CCC remains a semi-private Country Club, governed by a duly elected Board of Directors, and offers several different types of membership. The non-member public sector, including snow bird residents, visitors and Mexican nationals however, can play by paying greens fees ranging from 300-450 pesos per round. Guadalajara native and current top women’s golfer in the world, Lorena Ochoa has impacted the game of golf in Mexico beyond calculation. Interest in golf continues to mushroom among Mexican nationals and Lorena’s popularity and influence has caused a dramatic increase in greens fee play at CCC.

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George Stevenson, Board president sees this golf boom in Mexico as the Club’s greatest immediate challenge. “Lorena Ochoa has managed to stir the inners of Mexicans, showing them that golf does not have to be out of reach for the common people. Four years ago, the Club started the Junior Golf Development Program for aspiring local youth to answer the need,” George relates. “Greens fee play rose 30% last year and another 35% already this year. Coordination of this surge in golfers with member play, especially on weekends, presents the dilemma. With a slowdown in full memberships, associated with the slowing global economy, management of more golfers is a wonderful thrust for the Club during these times,” George continues.

Lorena, loyal to her roots, selected Chapala Country Club Golf Course as a member of the Lorena Ochoa Golf Academy. Teaching pros, working directly for the Academy, provide private lessons to anyone at a cost of 350 pesos per instruction.  This extra benefit adds to the Club’s attractiveness.

Many opportunities exist for the golfer to join in on a plethora of weekly organized tournaments.  On Tuesdays, members-only Ladies Day and Wednesdays, members-only Men’s Day, the course is closed to the public until 1pm. The Go-Go Tournament of Mixed Couples, a favorite with members, closes the course the last Thursday of every month. Various other tournaments provide competition throughout the year, including the Club Championship, the President’s Cup, the Two-Man Horse Race and the Calcutta.

As a special annual event praised by the entire community, the CCC hosts the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) Charity Golf Tournament every October. Billed as the largest charity golfing event Lakeside, close to 100 players participated in this all-day affair in 2007. CCC donates the golf play and course use, while all profits, entry fees, etc. benefit the community’s health lifeline, the Cruz Roja.

A unique and popular competition is the Caddie Tournament held each December. Caddies, who year long patiently assist golfers, celebrate the opportunity to play golf with their faithful members. Afterwards, the Club fetes the caddies and their families to Mexican comida (Mexican fare, usually eaten mid afternoon), prize drawings, and member donated gifts that the caddies and their families need. Last year, the coveted prize was a flat screen television.

The CCC´s 12 Board of Directors and members, via voting privilege, direct the operation and employees of the facility. Volunteer opportunities arise as members can run for the board or serve on one of the major action committees- House, Social, Golf, Membership, Greens and Financial. Expatriates use their previous entrepreneurial, management or social skills to assist in current and future planning. The Club’s present charter limits membership to 175 shareholders.  The complete schedule of fees and types of membership appears on the CCC website, www.ccchapala.com.

At a cursory glance, a shareholder/golfing membership, including unlimited golf, all club services, social events and voting privilege costs a one time fee of $6,000US or peso equivalent, 1,680 pesos monthly dues and an annual bar-food minimum of 4000 pesos. Social memberships, excluding golf privileges, cost an initiation fee of $100US, a monthly fee of 170 pesos and a similar annual bar-food minimum of 4000 pesos. Anyone who belonged to a US Golf Country Club or investigated recent membership knows that this price falls far below any equivalent Club in the US or Canada. Currently the Club supports 140 golfing memberships and 25 social members.

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The hacienda style clubhouse provides ample space for social events, ranging from 18 annual, holiday or special fiestas with live music and dancing to informal gatherings, weekly, member-only bridge games or private parties in the dining room with a 140 seat capacity. In a recent policy change, the general public can now rent the dining room facilities for private parties, organization meetings or events.

amenities_dining

The full service bar and restaurant, managed by head chef Marco Bouleau Ramos, offers breakfast, lunch and comida daily to members and greens fee players. Friday night events for members and guests provide varied entertainment such as a pig roast, country western night where the Texas Two-Step livens up the dance floor and all you can eat barbeque. Within the past month, a new outdoor grill passed the inauguration test, with a scrumptious chicken feast.

Although the dining room appears somewhat dated and tired, dining on the terrace provides an uplifting experience. Rows bursting with violet jacarandas line the fairway while the Lake fills the background.  The randomly peaked mountain nestling the Club inside its protective arms provides an incredible backdrop as sunset glows. Easter brunch on the terrace provided the most relaxing Easter dinner in memory for me, as we entertained visiting children and grandchildren.

The President’s vision for the Club’s future success relates to building relationships with local friends and neighbors. “The City of Chapala expects rapid development of the area adjoining the golf course with a new highway, residences and a theme park, adding many job opportunities. Depending on the outcome, growth in business for the Club and restaurant could have a positive result,” Mr. Stevenson reflects.

Whether your game is golf, bridge, dancing, relaxation or consumption, Chapala Country Club provides an atmosphere for the retiree to make new friends, exercise in a tranquil outdoor environment, involve oneself in the community and enjoy the camaraderie of others.

This article was originally published in “Living at Lake Chapala” online magazine in May 2008 through www.mexico-insights.com

Email for more information:
Sid@ChapalaClub.com

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