The energy is contagious in this breezy, limestone-accented outdoor cantina. The space fills with the sounds of laughter, conversation and margarita glasses clinking while kids sit wide-eyed in anticipation of Pizza Night and dads relax with the hearth-like comfort of sports on the big screens. It’s the best of resort-style living with the comfort and familiarity of your favorite local restaurant. Better still? Creekside Cantina sits just a knockdown wedge away from Pebble Creek Country Club’s 18th well-guarded and well-landscaped green. Members at this 26-year old College Station Club have made this space the new “heartbeat” of the club.
Today, if you want your private club to thrive, it helps if you’re providing your members a place they never want to leave. The best club experiences give members the sensation of a mini-vacation on every visit. Pebble Creek has embraced that reality and today’s club experience there has evolved into a model many clubs across the country should strive to catch up to.
“Our ownership (Triumph Golf, who purchased Pebble Creek in 2012) anticipated the shift in private club marketplace that in order to thrive, clubs must be family-oriented and offer something enticing for every member of the family,” says director of golf Chad Barrum. “You know you’re in a new era when you walk through the clubhouse and see large workout area, yoga studio and kids club and find a resort-style zero-entry pool with splash pad and swim-up bar and cabanas outside.”
When the club opened in the early 1990s, College Station was a quiet, largely-rural but developing university town. Today, Bryan-College Station is one of the state’s fastest-growing communities and is taking on the complexion of a young city driven by biomedical and education careers and the enlightening discovery that the Brazos River Valley is a beautiful place to live. Pebble Creek sits in South College Station, one of the area’s most desirable zip codes.
“The way Bryan-College station is booming combined with Houston’s growth toward this area means South College Station is one of the hottest real estate sections in this region. The schools are excellent and the community infrastructure is outstanding,” Barrum says. “Our club benefits from the vibrant young families who want to live and work in a place that feels like a mix of home and a vacation getaway.”
Pebble Creek is known for its attractive stone-accented water hazards that guard many of the greens but, increasingly, the club is becoming known as the place to be on special occasions. “It’s a cliché to say we strive to be our members’ home away from home but if you came here and saw the Easter or Halloween or Fourth of July celebrations we put on, you’d see that we have so many families making incredible memories with the people they care about,” says Barrum.
Innovative junior golf programming includes the Operation 36 initiative which starts kids on a 25-yard hole and uses a unique curriculum to guide them through a step-by-step path to improvement with fun measurables and targeted instruction.
Once home to the Texas A&M men’s and women’s golf teams, Pebble Creek is known is a strong championship layout with a par of 72 and a length of 6,870 from the back tees, but the members love how fun and strategic the course plays. The beauty of this design, originally routed by the once-ubiquitous Houston-based design firm of Finger-Dye-Spann, is that all of the challenges and shot values are right in front of the golfer, including the many appearances of the naturally-flowing and meandering Lick Creek. This gently rolling and rising parkland layout has a terrific balance of manageable, “gettable” holes along with very challenging holes the demand sharp ball striking.
“The beauty of this golf course is that it’s truly playable for all skill levels. We’ve hosted professionals and top amateurs and the course holds up extremely well. At the same time, from the proper set of tees, our members and developing golfers (juniors, especially) can enjoy a fair test of golf. When we’ve renovated, we’ve taken care to position bunkers strategically, directionally and not in a penal or unfair manner.”
With a simple stroke of brilliance, this design starts opens with a short par five, a feature that aids pace of play and settles golfers comfortably into the round. A handsome 380-yard par four follows before the challenge ratchets up with the 445-yard, par-4 third. Barrum points out that all of the perils and hazards on this course are visible from the tee but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intimidating-looking shots you’ll face. The toughest holes on the front nine are the winding, scary 520-yard fifth hole and the uphill ninth, where wind is always a factor and out-of-bounds lurks right with water hugging the left perimeter.
The 12th is a classic short par 4 at only 336 yards. “You can challenge this hole with driver or lay back smartly with a 5-iron. Every golf course should have a hole this fun,” says Barrum.
Don’t let the pleasing, somewhat benign stretch of holes that open the back nine fool you. Pebble Creek brings Big League challenges on its closing four holes. To finish with a desirable 18-hole score, you’ll need to survive an intimidating closing stretch starting at the 424-yard, par-4 15th (a tough left-to-right dogleg hole) and the unrelenting 600-yard 16th. The final hole is an uphill 455-yard par 4 where a quartering wind adds to the formidable challenge.
This being Aggieland and the Southern soul of agronomic innovation, Pebble Creek’s superintendent has been given the freedom to use creative turf solutions, like placing Seashore Paspalum and Zoysia grasses in areas vulnerable to a high salt content in the soil and water. The result is a lush playable surfaces throughout this 6,870-yard layout, and no washed-out “trouble” areas.
Any club that has challenges growing or retaining its membership should look to a Pebble Creek and note out of the club’s evolution from refined golf club to a dynamic family environment where fun is the main objective, the last objective and all the objectives in-between.
“To attract the kinds of families who want to take advantage of this resort-caliber lifestyle, we’ve had to broaden our market appeal, but in that process we’ve learned what active families want. We’ve listened so we can make this club the kind of place our members use and really don’t want to leave,” Barrum says. “It’s a joy to see our members embracing the Pebble Creek lifestyle.”
Learn more about pebble Creek Country Club at www.pebblecreek.cc
By Carl Mickelson