In Perfect Harmony
The Natural Charm of The Golf Club at Cuscowilla in Eatonton, GA
Return to Press Releases
May 1, 2005 EATONTON, GA -- As visitors arrive at The Golf Club at Cuscowilla, taking in the 700 acres of serene property quietly nestled into the heart of Georgia's Lake Country on Lake Oconee, a particular thought occurs to them. From the presence of native wild grasses and towering, aged trees to the sumptuous countryside throughout, it seems as if there has been a profound dedication to upholding the land's natural topography; to make the resort-club community itself meld with the intrinsic beauty of the environment.
Or, in the words of Andrew Ward, Cuscowilla's CEO,: "Everything is left in balance, and developed in harmony here."
A mere 80 miles east of Atlanta, Cuscowilla's placid, sanctuary-like atmosphere makes members and guests feel as if they have found refuge from the frenetic pace of the outside world. Cuscowilla has 7 miles of water frontage, on Georgia's second largest Lake, the 20,000-acre Lake Oconee. Ironically, in spite of Cuscowilla's immemorial feel, the land was purchased in the mid-'90s by American entrepreneur Pete Bailey Jr. and German investors Heinz Nathe and Rolf Witt to develop a high-end residential community of 500 home site lots. Prior to this, the area was used as a seed farm for hybrid pine specimens, and today the real estate at Cuscowilla ranges from the charming yet spacious Lake Villas - built of yellow pine, cedar shake roofs, and hand-hewn granite - to multi-million dollar family estates. Some of the homes are featured in Cuscowilla's rental program, which affords homeowners the opportunity to earn income from their investment even when they are not using it themselves. Other features of the rental residences - include milled hardwood floors and exposed cedar beams in lofted interiors - all of which conjure the allure of an elegant natural retreat.
"At first, we didn't even know if we were going to put a golf course here," CEO Ward said. However, that notion would eventually change due to a fortuitous early meeting between Cuscowilla's ownership group and professional golfer Ben Crenshaw, who was looking around for possible locations that matched his style, to undertake a course design project. It was the fall of 1994, and Crenshaw was enthralled by the possibilities that the Cuscowilla property had to offer. No formal contracts were signed, but Crenshaw sealed the deal at the time with a simple handshake.
Six months later, in March 1995, Crenshaw emerged victorious with his second career victory at the Masters Tournament. As a result, the Cuscowilla Principals reasoned that Crenshaw's stated fee would surely increase dramatically as a result? That wasn't the case. "Ben came back and said, 'The price is of course the same. We had a handshake,'" Ward said. With that, it wasn't long before Crenshaw and his partner, golf course architect Bill Coore, went to work creating Cuscowilla's par-70, 6,847-yard naturalistic course.
Since opening in 1997, the course has caught the favorable attention of many prominent national golf magazines. In March of this year, GolfWeek rated Cuscowilla as having the No. 1 "Best Residential Golf Course in America," as well as in 2005 rating it among the top fifteen of "America's Best Golf Courses Built Since 1960"for the third year running. Likewise, the February 2005 issue of GOLF Magazine ranked the course at No. 22 on the list of "Top 100 Courses in America You Can Play", and Golf Digest's 2005 list of "America's 100 Greatest Public Courses" slotted Cuscowilla at No. 61.
"We were able to do all of this while spending a fraction of what some developers spend when designing and building such a fine course", Ward said, "But we were lucky in that we were able to pair the style of the land up with the right architect." Indeed, it is the style of the course at Cuscowilla that has made it both popular and distinctive with golfers who crave a more traditionalist style of golf. While many of the country's newer courses strive for the ultimate in cosmetic perfection - with uniform, white sand bunkers and grass heights that have been precisely measured with a laser beam - Coore and Crenshaw opted for a more laid-back, natural approach, and "created something very special" recalls Crenshaw fondly whenever asked about Cuscowilla.
"We have Georgia red clay in our bunkers, not white fluffy sand," Ward proudly states, "And the bunker edges are craggy and scruffy." The design team worked with the native contours of the land, creating a course plan that winds effortlessly through Cuscowilla's pine valleys and rolling meadows. Several large interior ponds also figure into the playing strategy. Compared to some of the more overly shaped and sculpted courses found around the country - where the landscape has been moved and completely reconfigured to accommodate the course design - a round at Cuscowilla seems downright exotic; the dry, firm fairways offering a stark counterpoint to the manicured grass at Augusta National.
Like everything else at Cuscowilla, the golf course is the ultimate reflection of the Developers commitment to glorifying the beauty and integrity of the land.
The Golf House
One of Cuscowilla's newest and proudest additions arrived with the opening of the 14,000-square-foot main building known as The Golf House, so named to reflect the property's identity as a golf club, and therefore different from a traditional "clubhouse." Interestingly, the process of just selecting a designer and drawing up plans for the structure turned out to be an adventure in itself.
"As the club started to grow," Ward explained, "We agreed that once the membership reached 300, we needed to have a clubhouse. Up until that time, we had worked out of a small golf cottage." Though they ultimately reached that number in 2002, consultations for the building project started several years earlier. From the outset, the ownership group and Ward, the then general manager and now CEO of Cuscowilla were firm in their belief that they wanted a facility that was completely unique and different from anything else already in existence. Such expectations proved problematic when working with commercial architects who consistently leaned toward established designs that had been used at other locations throughout America.
"We interviewed three different architects, and even got started with one of them, yet they all wanted to hold to the industry standards," Ward said. "They wanted to put in the typical big, austentacious fancy restaurant, and we just weren't interested in that." Cuscowilla already had a popular and successful upscale casual restaurant, the Waterside, located down on the Lake Front. "The bottom line, though, was that we wanted to have something that no one else had, to be different, unique and special - anything but the norm!"
Consultations continued through 2001, "and we were getting pretty frustrated." At that point, the Principals decided to go in a totally different direction. As was the case with Cuscowilla's golf course, success hinged entirely on whether they could find the right architect for the project. Eventually, a company from Athens, GA, Unified Design, was tapped as the architect for The Golf House.
Mark Lytle, owner of Unified Design, was no stranger to the Cuscowilla property, having designed several of the community's private homes. He also brought a unique perspective to the project - he studied at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (FLWSA) in Scottsdale, AZ. "I've had a taste of the club hospitality environment in the past, having worked with Taliesin Architects on the master planning of Desert Mountain and other locations." Taliesin Architects is a for-profit subsidiary of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and continues Wright's architectural legacy in new projects.
Ultimately, though, this was Lytle's first opportunity to spearhead an entire clubhouse project. "I had known about the challenges that Andrew and the ownership group were having with selecting an architect," he said. "I saw the plans that they were considering, and they all seemed to show the same sort of boxy structure with no character." From there, Lytle started with a sketch. "I said to Andrew, 'Here, how about something like this?' I knew that they wanted something different from the standard casual Southern clubhouse, and it all sort of went from there". Wards first comment was "wow, now that's different", recalls Lytle, closely followed by "it's great, I think the Principals will love it". And they did, with only minimum exterior changes being requested.
Lytle continued, "The planning only took about six months, and we had the plans out to the construction company, Landmark, shortly thereafter." After breaking ground on the project in 2002, the Golf House opened nine months later in January 2003. "It came together very quickly."
"Mark incorporated many of the principles he learned at FLWSA into the design of our Golf House," Ward said. The building, featuring a copper and cedar shake roof, use of Alabama stack stone, and aged stucco siding, incorporates the use of seamless glass throughout, allowing for an unobstructed, exceptional views of the landscape and the golf course that surrounds the Golf House. "Huge panes of glass, are joined with glass; there is no framework. It makes you literally feel like you're outside when you're inside." Overhead are 13-foot long roof cantilevers with no support beams - so you can't even tell where the support comes from.
A spectacular veranda patio area stretches out and around the 14th green, giving unrivaled perspective on the golf course below, coupled with glimpses of the #1 tee and fairway, and the 18th green. This further provides the perfect spot to relax with a drink or chat with friends. For a casual meal, guests can also partake of lunch and dinner offerings at the Golf House Grill, the Golf House's on site informal restaurant and bar.
The little touches provide added charm to the already unique structure, mixing elements of the modern design philosophy with a warm, weathered look. "With the materials we used, like the stucco and the copper, those items will actually take on different colors as they age and will continue to add character," Lytle said. Additionally, Ward explained, they sought out local artisans who could further enhance the look and feel of the building. A great example of this is the handmade bar, made by a local woodworker - a colorful individual who didn't even wear shoes - and then we used another Artisan who built our Pro shop interiors and cabinetry from aged heart pine, salvaged from old factories and other locations out of state. "It helped give everything a fantastic, rustic, handcrafted feel," Lytle said.
Himself a Briton, CEO Ward worked closely with the Principal partners in the selection of various international offerings of furnishings and accent pieces to round out the look of the Golf House. "we picked out some exquisite leather furniture in Romania and had it shipped back to the club," he said. "We wanted to integrate the look of different hand-woven textures." The ambiance of the Golf House was truly the combined result of the tastes and preferences of the Principals involved; unlike a traditional club, there was no need to have selections approved by committees or a member board of directors. This luxury also enabled the entire project to move faster toward completion. "We all worked hand-in-hand in building it, and it was an emotional process because everyone involved wanted the end result to be the best it could possibly be," Lytle said.
From an economic standpoint, the building also utilizes modern energy-saving design techniques. "We spent more money to have an advanced mechanical system installed to heat and cool the building, along with more sophisticated types of insulation," Lytle said. The up-front cost was a little bit more, but will provide added savings in the long run. "We also incorporated some special touches with the illumination, such as three-phase lighting." Ward recalled, "I had a tough time initially convincing all of the Principals that it was worth spending the extra money on the HVAC system - but today we are delighted at the ongoing savings every month when the utility bills come in!"
"Like a Traditional British Village"
"If you look upon Cuscowilla as a town," Ward explained, "It is like a traditional British village. You can drive in, play golf, and leave, and not even feel as if you've entered a private community." Interestingly, the physical gates around Cuscowilla have been so concealed that they are barely noticeable once inside. The comfortable atmosphere has also helped Cuscowilla in one of its more lucrative endeavors - the hosting of corporate retreats.
"We have no minimums or assessments, so for economic reasons, the resort component of our property is very important," Ward said. "That said, we're not into the huge corporate events. We can host up to 120-person events, but we really cater to the smaller more intimate groups of 20 or so. The "groups of golfing buddies" and corporate executives work very well for is at Cuscowilla, as do family retreats. There are 100 bedrooms in our resort rental program, soon to be 180. Each is located in four, three and two bedroom properties. It's much like a horizontal hotel, nestled into the countryside that is Cuscowilla." And for those who favor a more direct arrival to Cuscowilla, other than by car, "we even have our own GPS coordinated helicopter landing pad that members can, and do use for those short on time."
In 1999, Southern Living magazine selected Cuscowilla as a site for one of its "Idea Houses." Each year, the publication sponsors the construction of a premier residential display home somewhere in the South that allows readers to see the magazine's design ideas and style suggestions in an up-close and personal atmosphere. After completing a yearlong open house, the residences can then become privately owned. Stephen Fuller, one of America's leading residential architects, designed the Idea House at Cuscowilla, a 6,000-square-foot home with five bedrooms surrounded by expansive water views of Lake Oconee. Since completing its tour, the house has become integrated into the club's corporate rental program. "It is just another justification for choosing Cuscowilla when looking for something different" states Ward, who goes on to explain "we seem to have the best of all worlds for our three different types of customer we have here - the property owners, members and resort guests".
The tranquil, stress-free atmosphere at Cuscowilla did not happen by accident. On the contrary, it has been the direct result of planning and a commitment to work in concert with the natural beauty of the land - working together in perfect harmony. "It makes a huge difference when the Principal Developers are in it for the right reasons, and not just for the bottom line" Ward said.
"You can see wonderful examples of that commitment throughout Cuscowilla as Bailey, Nathe and Witt have respectfully nurtured their passions across Cuscowilla's entire development - and it has really rubbed off on me and the rest of our team - the result? small golf lake village - huge long lasting impact " concludes Ward.
Courtesy of Club Management Magazine
For further details contact
Andrew D. Ward Chief Executive Officer
126 Cuscowilla Drive
Eatonton, GA, 31024