Lake Houston’s oldest golf course is now its newest.
“Frankly, the conditions of the Atascocita Golf Club are the best in quite some time,” said Ken Kirchhofer, “and we’re the best golf deal in the Houston area.”
Kirchhofer should know. He’s the club’s operations director and he predicts positive growth for the club.
“Course conditions, of course, will dictate our continued growth,” he said. “We’ll be adding food and beverage amenities and new furniture both inside and outside the clubhouse. We’ll renovate some cart paths and we’re about to start a major project on Pinehurst and all of the Point courses.”
Be patient, stay the course, be consistent
Kirchhofer also revealed that the existing channel that runs through the course will be dredged and two new culverts added.
Planning for the future is quite a change for the historic 27-hole golf course. Just a few years ago, it was close to being commercially developed. Instead, Kirchhofer and his investors have created a special, affordable place to play, both for the beginner and the advanced golfer.
“The community and the homeowners are the beneficiaries of the continued growth of the club,” he said. “Home values, even after Hurricane Harvey, continue to rise with the club’s success.”
Kirchhofer knows golf. He’s a graduate of the eight-year-long PGA Professional Golf Management Program at Port St. Lucie, Fla. He was born in New Haven, Conn., but grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Kennett Square.
He moved from the “mushroom capital of the world” to Lake Houston when Ruthie, his wife of 25 years, was transferred here. They live just a mile from the club, and their son, Tyler, and daughter, Brooke, are both graduates of Atascocita High School. Tyler is close to graduating from Rutgers University with a degree in turf grass management and currently is an assistant superintendent at the club. Brooke is a sports broadcaster for an NBC television outlet in Georgia.
Atascocita Golf Club has quite a history.
The 61-year-old course was built in the mid-1950s by Ralph Plummer, a “natural course architect” who used natural features and avoided artificial ones when he designed more than 100 courses during his 40-year career.
“I’ve built golf courses in mesquite thickets in West Texas, rice fields in Louisiana, and swamps in Jamaica,” Plummer once said.
His Atascocita course was unique and challenging enough that it became the home course for the University of Houston golf team with an impressive list of golfers who went on to become professionals.
Gazing out over one of the Shores courses, Kirchhofer explained the mystic feeling that golf offers that non-golfers may not understand.
“Golfers like to get lost in the serenity of the course,” he said. “That’s one reason people like to play. With all that is going on, you can spend some time getting lost in this world.”
Golf clubs, including Atascocita, have changed with the times, Kirchhofer said.
“Twenty years ago, having a golf cart was the craze,” he said. “Today, the rage is walking, exercising and getting healthy. Courses are shorter now and they’re very family friendly.”
Kirchhofer was brought in by the club’s investors because of his extensive experience in golf course management. He’s faced quite a few challenges since then.
“When you take over a club that is $2 million in debt and about to close, you want to move fast, but at what cost?” he said.
As with so many Lake Houston businesses and homeowners, Hurricane Harvey took its toll on the club. It was closed for two weeks. Tournaments were canceled. Kirchhofer estimates investors lost $175,000 just in tournament revenue.
Fortunately, Kirchhofer used inspiration he acquired from a fellow professional, Chris Rowe, head professional at the storied Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, rated the best course in Texas.
“I met with Chris three years ago, just a few months before we took over the Atascocita Club,” Ken said. “The one constant, Chris said, was to be patient and stay the course. Be consistent. Sounds simple but so difficult to do. Chris has no idea how valuable that 30-minute conversation meant to me: Be patient. Stay the course. Be consistent.”
Practicing that philosophy, what Kirchhofer is accomplishing at Atascocita is working. Club membership is growing. Course conditions have improved significantly. Home values around the club are increasing.
Besides freshening up the clubhouse, the cart paths and the courses, the club has a fleet of 80 brand-new, lithium-battery-powered carts.
And Kirchhofer has big plans for the antique irrigation system.
“The hydraulic irrigation system is a dinosaur,” he said, “and we continue to improve it. We’ll be able to have the capability of using satellite controls that will make the process of watering at all times more efficient as we continue to re-invest in the system.”
Kirchhofer gives all credit to his staff for rebooting Lake Houston’s historic golf course.
“We have assembled one of the best golf operation staffs in the area,” he said. “Ben Hutchins is the course superintendent. He’s a turf grass management graduate from Sam Houston State, and our head pro is Brad Dodson. He’s an Indiana State grad who attended on a baseball and tennis scholarship.”
Individual, family and corporate memberships are all inclusive. There’s a one-time member initiation fee of $200 and members do not have to be a resident of Atascocita. One of the most popular membership packages, Kirchhofer said, is the Player Development Program for a $29.95-a-month fee that allows a golfer to play for $20 anytime Monday through Friday or after noon on Saturday and Sunday.
Kirchhofer has a well-defined and distinct management philosophy. It can best be summed up in his motto: One Team. One Goal.
“We’re committed to providing an exceptional experience both on and off the golf course,” said Kirchhofer. “It’s all part of my ‘yes’ philosophy: you have an opportunity to be part of something great. Everything you do, be consistent, thorough and accountable every day. Success is measured by everyone doing their job. Make the team stronger.”