Grand plans for Houston Oaks Country Club and Family Sports Retreat

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

HOCKLEY, Texas -- Houston Oaks Golf Club was always a nice place to play golf. While the former 36-hole Tennwood Recreation Center has undergone several incarnations in its 54-year history, it was never spectacular. But it was a true country club in the strictest sense.

Houston Oaks Country Club - No. 18
Redesigned by Baxter Spann, the finishing hole at Houston Oaks Country Club is a preview of things to come.
Houston Oaks Country Club - No. 18Houston Oaks Country Club - treesHouston Oaks Country Club & Family Sports Retreat -- lake poolHouston Oaks Country Club -- No. 7Houston Oaks Country Club & Family Sports Retreat -- clubhouseHouston Oaks Country Club & Family Sports Retreat -- First Tee
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It really was out in the country.

Well, that hasn't changed, but the new owners have much bigger ambitions with the new Houston Oaks Country Club & Family Sports Retreat. Located about 30 minutes northwest of Houston, some heavy hitters have some grand plans, some of them already coming to fruition.

The 343-acre facility is down to 18 holes these days, with the rest of the remaining land dedicated for all sorts of neat stuff: a baseball park, stocked fishing ponds, boating, luxury casitas, a new clubhouse, a pavilion for special events and concerts and a new First Tee facility.

A couple of years ago, three influential couples in the Houston area came up with around $8 million to acquire the club that once served the employees of Tenneco Oil and Gas. The group is composed of Marci and Steve Alvis, founder of NewQuest Properties; Kim and Chuck Watson, founder of Dynegy; and Terri and John Havens, CEO of Seismic Exchange and owners of the Cal-a-vie Spa in San Diego. They are reportedly investing an additional $30 million to $40 million in the project.

So far, Houston Oaks is in the middle of remarkable transformation. The current facility makes good use of some of the existing amenities such as the pool, the lakes and the picnic areas. Already, pavilions have been added, and visitors and members can take advantage of white sandy beaches, use paddle boats or go swimming. An additional pool is in the works as well as a giant tree house, a nine-hole family course and there will be a "fish camp" for kids and adults.

There's already a new park house with a high-definition TV, outdoor fireplace and dining area, served by executive chef Bart Black, formerly of Redstone Golf. And a new 23,000-square-foot clubhouse is currently under construction. Then there's also the "Field of Dreams" softball/baseball field (called Havens Field), topping off a weekend family retreat to be envied.

"It's not about making a profit," Chuck Watson said. "It's not about a dad going out there, playing golf at a country club for a half day and going home. It's about involving your family on the weekend. All family members can enjoy Houston Oaks. We're trying to sprinkle some 'family dust' on some parents."

Indeed, while the club is there for its members to enjoy, the construction of the casitas will allow for stay-and-play packages for nonmember guests. Those guests, club officials say, will have full use of the facility and will be encouraged to do so.

Special golf course ahead at Houston Oaks

Many of Houston Oaks' members also belong to other prestigious clubs in the area, so everything is being done first-rate, which includes a renovation of the golf course.

At present, only the 18th hole has been redone, but there are plans to renovate the entire golf course, which was originally designed by Ralph Plummer. Houston architect Baxter Spann gave the finishing hole a new elevated green to replace the old push-up green, and he flanked it with modern deep bunkering. A similar treatment of the other 17 holes would produce one of the better golf courses in the Houston area.

In the meantime, the current golf course is still a worthwhile play. While the complete renovation -- likely to be done nine holes at a time -- is still on the horizon, Houston Oaks hired James Edgmon, formerly the superintendent at the Houstonian Golf Club, to get Houston Oaks in top shape. In fact, Edgmon is one of several key staff members, including COO Herb Lipsman, who used to work for Redstone Golf, which also runs and owns Redstone Golf Club, site of the Shell Houston Open.

Houston Oaks, in its current state, is an enjoyable 6,500-yard, par-71 layout. The golf course is routed through mature live oaks, ponds and streams. There are no homes on the golf course, which will challenge players with its doglegs and carries. Since the new owners have taken over, a stocked comfort station has also been added near the seventh tee.

From underground bunkers to The First Tee

Houston Oaks is the first private club in the world to construct a First Tee facility on its property, and this one couldn't be more unique.

The facility includes a classroom and indoor component located in the former underground bunkers built by Tenneco during the Cold War era. The bunkers, built in case of a nuclear attack, were designed to serve as Tenneco's command center in an emergency. Now, they will house instructional rooms as well as dormitories for youngsters.

The Houston Oaks campus also calls for an eight-acre practice range, which includes target greens, practice putting greens, a short-game area and a five-hole loop. Plans also call for a movie theater in the underground bunker.

It will be the second First Tee facility in the Houston area. The other one is at Redstone Golf Club.

"We have an eight-month waiting list at Redstone," said Dianne Overstreet, program coordinator for The First Tee of Greater Houston. "We were elated when the leadership at Houston Oaks elected to step up and add another campus to our chapter."

The First Tee, which was founded in 1997, has introduced the game and its values to more than 3.5 million participants. It has involved 3,426 elementary schools throughout the United States and internationally.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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