A Familiar Face

by Martha-Page Althaus

 Aug 03, 2017 at 7:41 PM

At Country Club of Asheville, Debbie Ponder has seen it all.

To say she’s a country club regular is a huge understatement. After all, Debbie Ponder has been working at Country Club of Asheville for nearly 37 years.

Ponder, who was hired straight out of college to handle front office duties and book private functions, now serves as the club’s membership and marketing director, a role that’s constantly evolving.

“In the 1980s, the club didn’t advertise,” she recalls. “Members brought in new members. But when corporations no longer offered memberships to their executives, that’s where the challenges came in and we ramped up our marketing efforts.”

In her tenure, she’s also seen changes in the role the club plays in members’ lives.

“It used to be all about the men. The wives and children weren’t as involved. Now we have a one-stop shop. The whole family is active beyond just the guys getting together.”

And it’s not a hard sell at Asheville, either. Since McConnell Golf took ownership in 2015, the property has undergone top-to-bottom renovations, including a recent golf course reconstruction.

“Since McConnell took over, I now have something truly enticing to sell,” says Ponder. “When I’m taking folks on a tour, they see our upgraded clubhouse and locker rooms. They see the renovated course. And when they find out they have access to 12 other private clubs? The value of this membership goes way, way up.”

In all her time at Asheville, one thing remains constant: “The members are an extension of my own family,” says Ponder. “I’ve known many of them for a long, long time. They’ve seen me come into this job straight out of college. They’ve seen me get married, have children. Their support is overwhelming.”

While Ponder has seen the club change in countless ways during her three-plus decades there, the atmosphere at Asheville now couldn’t be better.

“The new course is busy, and everyone is trying to find their game,” she says. “There’s a new energy and excitement here. Potential members are thrilled. I can say without a doubt that I love my job. I’m in the happy zone all day.”

And that’s a good place to be.


>> Learn More About Membership at Country Club of Asheville 


Read More

From the Stands

by Martha-Page Althaus

 Jul 18, 2017 at 8:08 PM

Avid tennis fans and Country Club of Asheville members Joe and Kathryn Scott traveled to New York last year to experience the US Open - in particular, the men’s double final and women’s single final. While Serena Williams was the one Kathryn hoped to see (she didn’t make the finals) the experience of being there in person was irreplaceable.

“You don’t get a good sense of the power or speed of the game when you’re watching from home,” says Kathryn, who plays tennis with her family. “The ball is there before you even see them hit. It’s across the court and being returned so fast. That athleticism is hard to capture on TV.”

The Scotts offer some good advice for planning a trip to a national tennis tournament besides the obvious, drink plenty of water and bring sunscreen. “Give yourself plenty of time to get out to the stadium. Go early, because there’s a lot to do on the grounds.”

While it's hard to match the excitement of traveling afar to watch the pros play, the Winston-Salem Open is a great event to catch big talent locally. Again this year, McConnell Golf will organize a group trip to the event, which is the final tournament in a series of nine leading up to the US Open. It's a great chance to socialize with members from sister properties and the group enjoys tailgating before the match as much as their group seats in the stadium. 

Read More

A Triumphant Return to the Course

by Matt Stewart

 Apr 20, 2017 at 8:00 PM

This past weekend the Country Club of Asheville unveiled its newly renovated golf course to the membership for the first time. The golf course was closed for 348 days and redesigned under the guidance of Richard Mandell. Mandell was in charge of reshaping and reconstructing all 18 greens to the original 1928 Donald Ross design. After almost a year of construction and a few battles with Mother Nature, the course reopened on Friday, April 14th with over 180 anxious members seeing the changes for the first time.

The member’s re-opening weekend turned out to be a big hit. The inaugural tee shot was struck at 8am by long-time Country Club of Asheville member Clay Emerik, a fixture of the course prior to reconstruction as he frequently walked the 18 hole track. The weather could not have turned out better for the first day of golf on the new course with three great days of highs in the upper 70s, an abundance of sunshine and very little wind.

Overall the reviews of the course were fantastic. Keeping in the spirit of what Donald Ross was known for, Pinehurst #2 being one of his more famous designs, the greens were re-shaped with lots of slope and undulations that were designed to present a fair but challenging test on the putting green. CCA member Rick Arpin exclaimed, “I would kiss the architect if he were standing here right now... this place is beautiful!” Numerous club members, some of more than 30 years, were astonished at how great their golf course had become. With warmer summer weather on the way, the course will get better and better as the new grasses on the property start to prosper and fill in.

The Grand Reopening Event is scheduled for Friday, May 5th through Sunday the 7th when the practice facility will be unveiled. With the addition of a larger practice tee that offers more space for players to work on their game and a newly added short game area to fine tune chipping, pitching, and bunker play, the club will offer not only a new course but a more modern practice area for all to enjoy.

Rounding out McConnell Golf’s $4.6 million investment to the club’s facilities since 2014, Country Club of Asheville members have a golf course and private club to be very proud of. After enjoying three rounds during opening weekend CCA member (and Club Champion) Pat Thompson declared, “We are going to be as good as it gets when it comes to golf courses in Western North Carolina!”

Pictured Above: Rich Ford, Clay Emerick, Bob Gelder, and Rod Pennington were the first members to tee off 

>> Watch the Inaugural Tee Shot on Facebook 


Read More

Golf Course Reconstruction

by Matt McConnell

 Apr 10, 2017 at 5:27 PM

The Course's Modern Transformation to the Original Vision of Donald Ross

For all of 2016, Country Club of Asheville's Donald Ross golf course was closed due to extensive resto­ration by course architect Richard Mandell. He made many great improvements, such as new 007 Bentgrass on all 18 greens, a restored creek crossing on No. 10, a new practice facility, and rerouted cart paths, to name a few. For Mandell, the most excit­ing part of the project would be discovering and returning the forgotten work Ross had created in 1928.

“Renovations at the Country Club of Asheville have been a very enjoyable experience for me working alongside Superinten­dent Robby Watts and his crew,” explains Mandell. “It was fun to incorporate my knowledge of Ross in creating new greens where possible and uncovering some of the original greens buried under a few existing ones.”

Using information from long-time country club members and notes from the original construction, Mandell tried to mimic the original course layout as closely as possible. Every piece of data gathered would allow him to focus on his goal of preserving the original instead of making design changes. “My early process walk-through with Les Stradley, who was the golf pro there in the 1970s, was an eye-opener as to the changes to the greens in the ‘60s from Ross’ work,” says Mandell.

By changes he means “changes.” For example, many believed the No. 12 green was the original putting surface elevation. However, it was discovered that the green Donald Ross built was under seven feet of dirt, one of the many surprises found throughout the construction. The green would be restored to the original grass line.

“I am most proud of the finish work to the features and shaping of the putting surfaces, which was done by NMP Golf Construction and my shaper, Marc Burger,” says Mandell. “I hope the greens are as fun to putt on as they were to design. Mr. McConnell wanted a set of very interesting, challenging putting surfaces, which is what we delivered. I believe they are the soul of the course now.”

Besides the changes to the greens, another adaptation required moving the first tee. The results: A better view of the fairway for the golfer’s drive and the creation of space for a 10,000-square-foot prac­tice putting green next to the clubhouse. Relocating the tee may not have been what Ross envisioned, but it’s a great enhancement everyone will enjoy.

The reconstruction efforts provide promising course conditions, especially with the new drainage and turf. Strategically chosen for Asheville’s unique climate, the 007 Bentgrass greens will perform very well in the cool weather along with the rest of the course. The fairways are also Bentgrass, while the roughs are a blend called Midnight Kentucky Blue­grass. To reduce excessive mowing, Mandell used Meyer Zoysia on the sand bunker faces, just as he did at Raleigh Country Club in 2006. Although Zoysia is a slow-growth, warm-season grass used all over the Southeast, it is new to the Asheville area.

“Overall, the work here at CCA is some of my best,” says Mandell. “I think the green complexes and the bunkering are a testament to Ross’ practical approach to design, yet we seized the opportunity to create a bit more variety from hole to hole. It was an honor to work on the 16th hole, as it has always been one of my favorites as depicted in one of my favorite books on golf architecture, George Thomas’s Golf Architecture in America.”


Read More

Fitting in Fitness

by Jessie Ammons

 Dec 20, 2016 at 8:36 PM

Resourceful planning has yielded impressive improvements recently at four McConnell Golf Clubs. Thanks to ingenious use of clubhouse spaces, the Country Club of Asheville and Holston Hills Country Club have brand-new fitness centers; and Old North State Club has significantly renovated its center with Providence Country Club soon to follow suit. Here’s a look at how it came together in Asheville and nearby Knoxville.

In this mountain club of North Carolina, there was a lower-level room with a scenic view that no one could appreciate. “We had an old dining space that wasn’t used that often,” says Country Club of Asheville Club Manager Michael Methot about the spark of an idea. “We converted it – completely transformed it – into a fitness center.” Now, the 2,800-square-foot space is decked out with treadmills and resistance weight machines, a “one-stop- shop facility,” Methot says. What’s more, another spare room was outfitted with mirrors and a new floor to become an exercise studio. There, eight group fitness classes happen each week, and members often use it for stretching and personal exercise routines. “We had the facilities, they just weren’t fitness facilities,” Methot says. The center opened in October 2015. “We’ve been able to create a really great center for our members.”

Likewise, one of the first renovations made to the clubhouse at Holston Hills Country Club in Knoxville was a similar extra space overhaul. With new flooring, lighting, and equipment, a former dining room has become that club’s state-of-the-art fitness center.

At both clubs, the new space has opened the door for exciting new programming. At Holston Hills, new activities director Katelyn Graham was brought on board to oversee an active group fitness class schedule and personal training sessions. At the Country Club of Asheville, a robust fitness class schedule has been so popular that they’re now offering unique activities like chair yoga and a multi-week dance class series. At both places, “we have a good mix of equipment and programs for everyone,” says Corporate Director of Member Activities and Wellness Natalie Clemens. Clemens was instrumental in both overhauls, but turned to each club for specific details. “We really took our members’ thoughts and inputs into consideration,” Methot says. “It’s another way to engage and offer them more.”

Read More

Field Trip

by Laura Burkehart

 Dec 13, 2016 at 9:02 PM

McConnell Golf's tennis program brings all the clubs together. 

Each August since 2011 fans have gathered at Wake Forest University for the Winston-Salem Open. The last men’s tournament on the Emirates Airline US Open Series circuit before the US Open, this event draws top pros and a large, enthusiastic crowd.

For the past couple of years, McConnell Golf members have joined in the fun. “It’s a good event,” says Kyle Thortsen, McConnell Golf director of tennis. “We start out with a tailgate in the parking lot. We have a tent, and cornhole, and food, and everyone hangs out until the gates open.”

Member Jill Uttridge agrees. “I attended the WSO with my husband and sons, who are 13 and 9. While the boys enjoyed cornhole in the parking lot, we mixed with friends from our club, Wakefield Plantation, and met members from other McConnell clubs. It was fun to hang with the pros in a non-instructional capacity.” The highlights for the kids? “My 9-year-old loved watching the players practice a few feet away and getting autographs on his big tennis ball. We love the small tournaments because you can really get up close to the players.” Once inside, the group gathered at center court for a photo. “That was really cool,” smiles Thortsen. “Last year, we had 25 members, and this year we had 50. We hope it will continue to grow and grow.”

 The Country Club of Asheville trip took place in the spring, with members from the Raleigh area heading to the mountains. Member Mary Beth Corbin recalls, “We brought a lot of energy and were greeted with sincere enthusiasm. Everyone was so welcoming, and the clinic with the pros was well-designed to meet the levels of the different participants.” These excursions also involve entertainment and local college players coming out for some sets.

Read More

Gather Together

by Jessie Ammons

 Dec 01, 2016 at 8:08 PM

At the Country Club of Asheville, members enjoy tastes of fine wine alongside gourmet paired bites at Chef Bruce McIntosh’s chef-led cooking demo dinners. “I call them demos instead of classes,” Chef Bruce explains. “I prepare the food in front of members, so they can see what I’m doing and learn from it, but then it’s plated for them to enjoy.”

The dinners began by happenstance and as an extension of the club community. Chef Bruce knew a group of men at the club who wanted to have a special celebratory dinner on Tuesday nights, when dinner service is closed. To make the meal memorable, he thought to utilize the club’s spacious kitchen outfitted with a large wooden block table.

Members sat around the table, and Chef Bruce made every course to order right there in the kitchen. The evening was a success, and the men raved about it enough to spread the word. Soon, another group wanted a private kitchen dinner, and then another. Chef Bruce decided to make it a regular occurrence. “But I wanted to take it a step further,” he says.

Now, demo dinners involve five or six small-plate-sized courses and shared bottles of wine. When they arrive, members receive a printout with the recipes for a few of the courses (never all of them, because “I like to keep an element of surprise for a few of the courses,” Chef Bruce says). There’s also a space to take notes on any tricks and techniques gleaned from watching the chef at work. Some members take ample notes and others sit back and enjoy — both are welcomed and encouraged. “It’s a real social event,” Chef Bruce says. Between the convivial gathering, the quality time with the chef, and the ability to recreate recipes at home, the dinners are truly something special. “We’re enjoying offering something different to our members.”

Bites by Bruce

These two easy appetizer recipes from Chef Bruce make winter entertaining a breeze.

Mushrooms Royale 
1 pound mushrooms 1 tablespoon olive oil 8 shallots, julienned
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 1⁄4 cup white wine
1⁄2 cup espagnole sauce (available at grocery stores) salt and pepper to taste
1⁄4 cup chopped parsley 1 tablespoon butter toast points, for serving

Directions: Heat sauté pan and add olive oil. Add mushrooms and shallots, then sauté. After one minute, add garlic, salt, and pepper. Add white wine and reduce. Finish by adding brown sauce (espag- nole), parsley, and butter. Serve over toast points. Serves 8

Spinach-Artichoke Dip 
1 15-ounce can artichokes
8 ounces spinach, chopped
16 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
tortilla chips and pita bread, for serving shredded cheese of choice, for garnish

Directions: Preheat oven to 350. Puree artichokes and cream cheese. Fold in seasonings and spinach and spread into serving dish. Top with shredded cheese and bake for 15 minutes. Makes 3 cups

Read More