Keegan: There’s no easy fix for what ails Alvamar

For the first time, I’m at a loss for an easy solution to a problem on the local sports scene.

It’s easy telling Bill Self how to divide his minutes and letting Mark Mangino know which players to play when. It’s never a chore making sensible suggestions in those areas.

This question poses a far, far greater challenge: What needs to be changed to make Alvamar Inc. profitable? More to the point, how can Alvamar Country Club become profitable, because it is believed the public side of the 36-hole facility turns a small profit.

When a golf course is in the red, the first logical solution is to improve the course itself. That doesn’t apply here. The interesting layout forces golfers to manage the course, instead of just stepping up to the tee to grip it and rip it on every hole. The place is manicured to near perfection, with slick greens, immaculate fairways and nice tee boxes.

Are the dues too high? No. Actually, they’re reasonable by country-club standards. In terms of golf, it’s a rare setup that allows members to play either the private side or public side without paying greens fees. Twosomes who know where to park their carts, when to mark their scorecards and when to hold their conversations can get around the 18 holes in three hours. The place is a golfer’s paradise, replete with driving, putting and chipping practice areas seldom seen on one site.

The head pro, Randy Towner, is a personable, respected member of the community and a magnificent teacher capable of performing exorcisms from lifelong hacks demonized by slices. He also has a two-shot chipping lesson that brings calm to nervous golfers. (For the first time in my life, my slice is gone. My first nine holes of the season at Eagle Bend resulted in a 54 on the card, my most recent nine a 42, thanks in part to accurate chips. OK, enough bragging for now.)

So what’s missing that keeps the private side at Alvamar from turning a profit? The buzz from area golfing families is that Lawrence Country Club has cornered the market on family fun, and it’s easier to convince a non-golfing spouse to join a country club if swimming is a bigger part of the equation for the children and socializing at the restaurant and bar is part of the experience for adults.

An estimated 40 percent of Alvamar members are from the Kansas City area. They tend to want to play and zip home. The LCC members, generally speaking, live closer to the course.

A new board of directors, should it be voted in at Thursday’s meeting, would have itself one sticky challenge, and it’s not unique to this area. So many new golf courses were built in recent years, based on projections that far more new golfers would enter the market than ever did. Plus, corporate golf memberships, which used to be plentiful, have taken a dive as businesses tighten belts in response to Wall Street pressures.

The rise of high-dollar public courses in Kansas City ate into the Alvamar membership and so too might the re-opening of LCC, scheduled for Sept. 30. The arrival of Eagle Bend in 1998 likely reduced traffic at the more expensive Alvamar public side.

Unlike at some country clubs, Alvamar members are not owners of the club. Still, if they could take ownership pride, and be heard on whatever issues might concern them, perhaps the membership numbers would grow.

Those are vague principles, though. Let’s get more specific with a plan that could start Alvamar – named after the late beloved founder Bob Billings’ parents, Alva and Margaretta – finances heading in a better direction.

First, lease out the banquet and dining area to an independent party who can turn it into a facility open to the public. Work into the deal a system whereby once the place starts turning a profit, a percentage goes back to the country club. Make Alvamar Country Club essentially a golf-only facility with a snack bar.

As it stands now, the restaurant is run at a loss of up to $200,000 per year, according to one informed member.

What if a new, public restaurant or nightclub flops? Here’s where the local members need to become pro-active. Provided the restaurant, or nightclub, or whatever it is the leasee wants to do with it, delivers a quality product, support it by using that product. Talk it up. Spread the word that it’s not for members only anymore.

It’s going to require some thinking outside the box and difficult decisions to get Alvamar running more efficiently in the dollars department. Might that mean seeking a leasee that would have theme nights, open to the public, and aimed at attracting different age-group crowds on different nights? It might. Rock ‘n’ roll one night, bluegrass another, big band or jazz on a third night. If that sounds crazy, remember this: Nothing’s too wild to open to discussion. Start discussions on the edge of insanity and move toward reason, but not too swiftly.

Why should members who don’t have an equity in the course and certainly don’t have any vested interest in a public restaurant care about keeping it thriving? Because it would help the country club’s finances and in doing so might be able to stave off a next step that could be considered down the road – namely, turning both courses into public courses that offer a once-a-year fee for unlimited play to “members.” Such a course of action could result in consolidation of the clubhouses and perhaps elimination of the locker rooms down below, at the country club. I’d rather see such a severe change averted.

Meanwhile, another move might result in attracting more members. Offer the single member rate to married women or men whose children and/or spouses don’t golf.

Staying the current course won’t cut it. The land development deals that used to underwrite the golf facilities have dwindled greatly. A new approach is in order and here’s hoping the public/private format survives at a golf facility that has it all.

I’d be interested in reading comments from other golfers as to what could help turn things around at Alvamar. Visit, click on this column, and post a comment beneath it with your plan of action.