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Club to get better grass, live music

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Chamisa Hills Country Club will soon become Club Rio Rancho, if all goes according to the plans of two local businessmen. They hope to offer a high-quality tennis program, weekend dancing, a revamped pool and more. (Rio Rancho Observer—ARGEN DUNCAN photo)

Chamisa Hills Country Club will soon become Club Rio Rancho, if all goes according to the plans of two local businessmen. They hope to offer a high-quality tennis program, weekend dancing, a revamped pool and more. (Rio Rancho Observer—ARGEN DUNCAN photo)

The prospective new owners of the local country club promise a far better product, although prices will go up, after they close on the sale May 1.

Local businessmen Jhett Browne and Robert Gallagher explained their plans at a meeting with members Thursday night at Chamisa Hills Country Club.

Most of their announcements were met with applause. A heated exchange arose over the proposed rates, but a member of the audience suggested a solution that all parties seemed to like.

Outside of “some act of God,” Browne said, he will close on the sale of the club in two weeks.

He expects to start renovations May 2.

He’s buying the assets, not the Chamisa Hills Country Club corporation. That means all lifetime and corporate memberships will have to be renegotiated with the new business, Club Rio Rancho, in which Gallagher will be a minority shareholder.

“It’s not just a golf course,” Browne said. “I think of it more as an event center.”

Gallagher, who’s been a member of the club for 14 years, said the club would be open seven days a week.

“There’s no doubt there’s revenue that needs to be produced here,” he said.

The golf course

Members will have reserved tee times, but the public can play, too.

Browne said he has hired John King, “arguably the best greenskeeper in the state of New Mexico,” to take over restoration of the golf course May 1. King will develop a program for the current groundskeeper to follow.

In addition to restoring the grass, Browne plans for decreased turf areas to save water.

Browne and Gallagher have a development agreement in the city manager’s office for consideration and expect to irrigate with well water instead of the reused water used on the course now. The recycled water is too high in salt, chlorine and pH for really lush grass, Browne said.

As for the north golf course, Browne said about 100 neighboring homeowners have committed to buying memberships and trying to recruit other members to generate about $35,000 a month in needed revenue. He said he thinks the club will need the north nine holes eventually, and it may become an executive course.

The clubhouse

Under Browne and Gallagher’s plan, the banquet room will become a restaurant, complete with seating on the adjacent patio and open to the public. Members will get priority seating, although Browne requested they make reservations and realize unreserved tables would have to go to the public at some point.

Members will have access to an exclusive restaurant and bar, and another bar will be open to the public.

Browne and Gallagher don’t plan to find new cooking staff. Browne said menu prices would change to match the cost of ingredients, so at least some prices would be higher.

Each month, social and golf members would have to buy a minimum of $50 in food and beverages for individuals and $75 for families. If they didn’t meet the minimum, it would be added to their membership bill.

“We’re in such a huge deficit, and we hope to turn it around every quickly,” Browne said.

He has arranged for his mother to set up a “mini-gallery” of art in the clubhouse. He’s also planning monthly members-only cocktail receptions and wine and cheese receptions, with live jazz at the wine and cheese receptions.

Browne is looking for pianists to play every night in the lounge, and live entertainment and dancing on the weekends in the public restaurant. People will be able to take dance lessons during the week.

“This will kind of turn it into a little weekend night club,” he said.

The facilities will be non-smoking except for a cigar bar off the lounge.

The pool

Browne said he hoped to open the swimming pool by May 15. The swim season will run into September, possibly until October, he said.

Gallagher said the club would host pool parties, some of which would be open to the public.

“This pool at this point stays private,” he said.

People would have to buy pool privileges separately from other memberships. Social, golf or tennis members could pay per visit for occasional pool use, but the public couldn’t use the pool unless they rented it for a party.

Browne said he would rebuild the bar at the pool, re-install the grill and get all-new furniture. Next week, workers will power-wash, paint and seal the pool.

“It’s going to look Caribbean,” he said.

Tennis

For tennis, another members-only feature, Browne has hired two talented former Lobo players, Johnny Parker and Ben Dunbar, as full-time pros. He said they will run a variety of tennis activities starting in July.

Browne expects to start refurbishing the tennis courts at the end of May.

“This will become, if you will, the mecca of tennis in the Albuquerque area,” Gallagher said.

Pricing

Two or three men became angry after learning golf memberships wouldn’t include pool or tennis court access, as the arrangement is now, because they would have to pay higher prices for the same privileges.

“If we don’t go up, there won’t be a club,” Browne said.

Later, an audience member suggested that if members spent above the minimum on food and beverages, they could be given credit toward tennis or pool memberships.

“I could see how that could work very well,” Browne said.

He said he would find an acceptable ratio of food and beverage expenditures to tennis or pool credit.

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