"Super Clubs: The Tale of the Tape"
With the PGA Tour making its annual swing through North Texas beginning this week, Mike Abbott knows his phone will soon start ringing.
In fact, Abbott, the general manager of the Vaquero Golf Club in tiny Westlake, Texas between Dallas and Fort Worth, might just be the most popular off-course person during the Tour’s two-week stay.
That’s because he serves as the head promoter, director of golf and most importantly, gatekeeper for Vaquero, the Tour’s latest private golf hotspot. A sort of pros Shangri-La, which has already attracted nearly a dozen pros as members with each making a six- or seven-figure investment to play and practice in utmost luxury and privacy.
“It’s the hidden gem of the PGA Tour right now,” said Fort Worth Tour pro J.J. Henry, a current non-member, but regular visitor to the Tom Fazio-designed course. “You’ve got to make a lot of birdies to afford to be there.”
Since opening in November 2001, Vaquero, built on land which once belonged to silver baron Nelson Bunker Hunt, has attracted move-ins like current British Open champion Todd Hamilton, 1997 champ Justin Leonard and 1998 runner-up Brian Watts. Other local, non-resident members include former U.S. Open champ Corey Pavin, PGA Tour winners Paul Stankowski and Ben Crane along with Harrison Frazar, Brandt Jobe and Greg Chalmers.
All complied with Vaquero’s rates which includes the initiation fee, currently at $175,000, along with the $10,500 annual dues and the purchase of a lot in the equity club which can range in price from $150,000 to $1 million. There is no immediate requirement to build on your lot, but the minimum house size is 3,000 square feet, a figure doubled by the Tour players who currently live there.
While lacking the world golf ranking wattage power of Orlando’s IsleWorth or Lake Nona, the Vaquero club has continued to add Tour players on a steady basis. Young stars Ben Crane and Hunter Mahan have joined in the last year, with plenty of calls to Abbott and current Tour Vaquero members from interested players hoping for a visit.
“I kind of went in under the radar last year for a visit, but Vaquero is great,” said Joe Ogilvie. “I did a lot of research on (owner) Discovery Land and they do the best job of anybody in the country.”
Among last year’s visitors during the Byron Nelson and Colonial tournaments were Isleworth residents Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara (the guests of teacher and member Hank Haney), along with Lee Janzen. Nick Price and Fred Funk have made previous visits.
“Tiger said he gets treated better here than his own club,” Abbott proclaimed.
So impressed was O’Meara with the Vaquero setup and service that he had newly hired IsleWorth general manager Greg Kuebler visit the club last summer to pick up service pointers.
While most players cited security and seclusion as their top reason for buying at Vaquero, an eight-foot stone wall circles the entire property along with a single gated and guarded entrance, the over-the-top service makes them feel right at home.
“Are we spoiled on the PGA Tour?,” asked charter member Watts. “Yes we are and Vaquero is the same way. The answer is always yes.”
“We’ll said yes to anything as long as it’s legal,” Abbott added.
That includes personal service with caddies, a chef at the 10th tee slicing up a daily menu which can include tenderloin, sausage, and breakfast tacos.
All cars are washed while the members and their guests are playing golf, the range balls are all the newest and latest models, the practice and course conditions are constantly in immaculate shape with no player/member having to carry anything further than two feet without an immediate offer of help. All members are always addressed by their proper last name.
“Our (current) British Open champion doesn’t really like a lot of help or people doing things for him, but we’ve set a standard for service and we want to maintain it. A lot of people didn’t think we could keep it up, but we’re proving them wrong,” Abbott said. “It’s like living at a resort all the time.”
Leonard found out the unlimited reach of the Vaquero service last year when he saw Abbott at a PGA Tour event. Greeting Abbott after his round, Leonard said he was happy to have an informal chat, “it doesn’t matter, you’re still a member, Mr. Leonard,” Abbott replied.
Discovery Land CEO Mike Meldman, who has built similar private enclaves elsewhere around the U.S. said Vaquero has succeeded so spectacularly because they have tapped into a small, but well-heeled niche.
“We have attracted a lot more young families here because we provide a safe haven for their families and themselves no matter if you a PGA Tour superstar or a successful young businessman or woman.”
One day, Stankowski coasted into the course on fumes for a practice session and the staff hurried to fill his car with gas before his next outing.
“I’m sure I could have found a gas station somewhere on my way out, but it’s nice to have little things like that,” he said.
Watts had the same feeling shortly after he moved in at the club.
“I asked them to cook a couple meals for me and they said they would bring them over,” Watts recalled. “I figured they would just have some kid run them over, but when I looked out my door, there was Mike Abbott standing there with the hot meals in his hands.
“How many other general managers would be standing there with your food order? That just shows you he’s willing to do that, everybody else is willing to help out as well.”
Since opening, Abbott said he and his staff have fielded the array of requests from dog and cat walking to picking up bicycles or picking up players in luxury automobiles at either nearby Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport or the private Alliance Field.
“It’s all about knowing what they want and fulfilling their request before they ask for it,” Abbott said. “These guys travel all the time, it might be helpful to stock their refrigerator with some basic food before they return from a tournament or have their favorite iced beverage in stock when we pick them up at the airport,” Abbott said.
Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and current TV sportscaster Babe Laufenberg asked for a certain type of iced adult beverage one day when he was playing golf, which was currently unavailable, but a Vaquero staff member said he would run to the store and then send it out to Laufenberg on the course.
“It’s not like they didn’t have 15 kinds of beers, they just didn’t have the one I asked for, but that’s just the kind of place Vaquero is. It’s an amazing setup,” Laufenberg said.
The latest luxury addition is a 30,000 square foot clubhouse which opened on January 2. Included are the standard wood-paneled lockers, with dozens of toilettes, 3,500 square foot mirrored workout area which includes its own yoga studio, his and her massage rooms and a 3,600 bottle wood-paneled wine cellar.
There is a video-equipped golf teaching center, lighted tennis courts and fish camp with its own fishing guide, which gets plenty of workout from the Tour pros when they are home.
Because usually everybody is somebody at Vaquero, there is no autograph seeking or even extended stares at your fellow range participants or locker mates.
Other Vaquero members include CBS announcer David Feherity, current Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe, former New York Giants quarterback Jason Sehorn, and his TV star wife Angie Harmon, former Steelers QB and current Fox star Terry Bradshaw, former Green Bay Packers Super Bowl veteran Donny Anderson, Dallas stars hockey players Richard Madmchuck and Brendan Marrow, Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers along with Laufenberg and Haney.
“You’re paying for people not to annoy you,” said Australian Tour pro John Senden, who has played as a guest of his countryman Chalmers.
While the club’s golf highlight is the three-day member guest, the Campeon, which costs $1,500 a team, a side understated competition has been the oversized houses built by the Tour players.
Watts was the first, putting three lots together to build a showcase on a hill behind a front nine hole which his friend Hamilton says is 10,000 square foot.
“He has 10 bathrooms in that house, 10, can you believe that?”
Watts said his house was the biggest at one time, but has since been surpassed by Leonard and Jobe, which are only a few hundred yards away, on the other side of Hamilton’s new digs.
“I only have a 1 acre lot, but my wife spent 2 ½ years to get it just the way she wanted it,” Hamilton said.
Jobe went with a three acre lot, but is building a mere 7,500 square foot abode which will be ready this summer.
“I had to fit into what everybody else was doing. This is Texas, everything is bigger out here.”
Including the privacy, service and security, but not the club rulebook.
“We only have three rules; no firearms, no cell phones on the course and no addressing any problems to anyone, but the general manager,” Abbott said.
That means a wide range of unlimited service for those who can afford the best and full two weeks of phone calls from Tour players interested in checking out the last PGA golfers’ hideaway.