Today, many country clubs nationwide are expanding the network through a hybrid model that serves customers from the general public as well as on a membership basis. Walnut Hills in East Lansing is embracing the trend.
“We’re taking a new approach to a hundred-year-old industry,” says Scott Weaver, one of four partners of Walnut Hills. “Our goal is to have a family-focused club that meets the expectations and needs of today’s customers in today’s economy.”
Situated on East Lansing’s northeastern edge, Walnut Hills is just five to 10 minutes from Downtown Lansing and from surrounding communities. Members and customers turn from a city street onto a quarter-mile lane that winds through tree-lined hills and an emerald green driving range to arrive at a modern clubhouse and restaurant. A 183-acre, 18-hole course fills the northern horizon, with impeccably maintained greens, preserved wetlands and mature shade trees. Another view reveals an elevated outdoor pool, tennis courts and a patio for outdoor dining.
“This is truly a year-round place,” says Weaver. “We provide value for families throughout the seasons by offering activities like golf, swimming, tennis, competitive youth teams, ice skating and cross-country skiing.”
Weaver says that variety is part of the new approach to building value. While golfing, fitness and recreational facilities, and some lounges and dining areas are available to members only, all customers may enjoy the fine dining in the Copper Restaurant. Ball, meeting and banquet rooms, along with food and beverage services, are also available for corporate gatherings and special events.
Walnut Hills traces its origins back to 1921 when a group of East Lansing citizens and Michigan State University faculty golfers created a nine-hole course in the center of campus. About eight years later, the club’s charter members constructed a new course on the town’s northern tier, and named it Walnut Hills Golf Club in honor of the site’s rolling landscape filled with hardwoods.
“We want to make sure that when people walk in the door they feel glad to be a member, or that that they want to be one,” says Don Romain, Walnut Hills executive director of club operations.
Questions and answers, a conversation with Scott Weaver and Don Romain
Q: What inspired you to become a partner at Walnut Hills?
A: Weaver: I saw an ability to look at a new model for a country club that focused on family, on an active, healthy lifestyle, and that engaged the public through a great local restaurant. I knew from the moment I came aboard in 2009 this would be all about great customer service, great guest care, and offering a product that has great value to the community.
Q: What makes Walnut Hills a unique asset in our community?
A: Romain: Traditionally, country clubs have been member-owned and operated. At Walnut Hills, we’re privately owned and our members are viewed as customers to whom we provide a high-value product. One of those products is great golf. Another is a family-oriented lifestyle. Our food and beverage operations and restaurant are also open to members and nonmembers alike, so anyone can come and enjoy great food or host a wedding, banquet or party. We very much want to be the place where people want to be.
A: Weaver: While a primary point is to have the best golf in the area for our members, we’re also providing an experience that the whole family can enjoy. We have tennis programs and facilities, a swim program and swim team, and we’re affiliated with MSU for both.
Q: How have you repositioned your restaurant to be a place for members as well as the general public?
A: Weaver: With Copper, we’ve fashioned a restaurant that’s very open, comfortable and doesn’t feel stuffy. While chains do well in our community, we wanted an independent restaurant where the menu changes and stays fresh, and where people find real value when they come to dine.
A: Romain: Copper offers a unique experience that we describe as “casual elegance.” Every seat has an unobstructed view thanks to an entire wall of glass that looks over the golf course. I can’t think of another place in this area that rivals that view for dinner. When you get here, you feel like you’re miles away. It’s truly an escape from the everyday.
Q: Why is Walnut Hills and its golf course a good place to do business?
A: Weaver: Whether you’re negotiating a business deal over lunch or an afternoon round of golf, we provide a private, prestigious and relaxing atmosphere. It’s simply a great venue for presenting ideas.